FROM AN EARLY AGE, I WAS ENTHRALLED with the written word. I was one of those kids who was a regular at our public library. Where most people would check out one to 4 books at a time, my usual batch of books totaled eight to twelve. However, during the summer months, I was known to check out 20 books at time, using a wagon to transport them home. One of my babysitters was an avid reader who started teaching me words that I was not being taught in school. Taking out the lettered tiles from a boxed game, we would turn all of them face down then mix them up. Next, we would split the tiles between us and turn them face up. The object of this made-up game was to create as many words as you could with the tiles picked. Obviously, she could have easily out listed me each time; but she always kept herself in check, along with helping me with my tiles. It did not occur to me until much later that she did not want me to ever feel defeated. When I made as many words as I could, she would move my remaining tiles into unfamiliar words for me. We would then get a dictionary to look up each word. This game was one of my favorite ones to play. AS I WAS LEARNING ALL OF THESE new words, I had one semester where I had a teacher who was a horrible speller. At first, I thought they were joking and trying to test the students, but it was not the case. They were simply bad when it came to spelling; it was a good thing they were not teaching us English or literature. The irony of it was right after that class I had a class where the teacher was constantly telling us the origin for many of the words, he spoke to us. None of us really cared it turned out; though, I still have a memory that the word candelabra comes from a Latin term that literally means candle tree and the word hippopotamus comes from the Greek word for water horse. In the classroom there was a massive dictionary that the teacher kept at the side of the room on a ledge. Whenever a student did not understand or mispronounce a word, the teacher would have them walk over to the dictionary to look it up. Obviously, this was not enough preparation if any of us wanted to enter a spelling contest and especially if we wanted to go up against the students in this amazing documentary. THE NATIONAL SPELLING BEE HAS BEEN around since the 1920s, but since the 1990s the contest has been dominated by one group of Americans. What was their secret? This film festival winning picture was written by first timer Chris Weller and director Sam Rega (League of Millions, Miami Noir: The Arthur E. Teele Story). With appearances by Sanjay Gupta (Anderson Cooper 360-TV, Monday Mornings-TV) and Hari Kondabolu (All About Steve, Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell-TV) among others, I was impressed by this movie. Since I have never sat and watched the telecast of the contest, I was surprised by the competitiveness and intensity that was on display. There was a mix of older and younger students that added levity and insight to their passion or maybe I should say desire. When I started watching this documentary, I thought I was going to witness parents who were dominating and strict, with only one thing on their mind—the contest. There were a couple of scenes that felt a bit repetitive; but overall the kids’ stories were so engaging and entertaining that I found myself getting anxious whenever a contest was in progress. This was a cinematic treat that provided me sustenance; I better look up the word sustenance, to make sure I am using it properly.
3 ½ stars