View Full Version : Lucky to be in Spellbound

07-13-2003, 11:42 AM
Angela Arenivar is one of the eight featured spellers in Spellbound and happens to be my sister. I am her oldest, PROUD brother. As a family, we are all very proud and feel lucky to be a part of the "Spellbound" experience. Not only did Sean and Jeff (the director and producer) perform a marvelous job of capturing on film an incredible event and time in our lives, but also were able to turn around and perfectly compose Angela's story on film. Obviously, the entire film is a work of art. Looking back, we would not have it any other way or filmed or composed any other way. I know the other families' feelings are mutual in respect to the film and their portrayals. I have also had the unique experience of meeting some of the NICEST people on the face of this earth like the Kadakias, the Staggs, the Whites and the DeGidios. These families are also profiled in Spellbound. We are all, in a sense family now. As I have said millions of times before, there is no way to ever thank Sean and Jeff for this experience and masterpiece of work produced. It has all been an incredible ride!!! I only hope everyone who sees Spellbound enjoys it as much as every family who is portrayed has enjoyed watching it. If you live in Houston, TX there is still time to catch the film. It has showed at the Angelika Theater since May 30, 2003 and counting!!! It is also showing throughout the country.

07-15-2003, 11:10 PM

I had the great pleasure of both seeing "Spellbound" when it played at my college's film festival as well as getting to know Jeff and Sean (very cool guys). So much has happened since then! Congrats to them and the spellers for the way this movie has taken off!

Anyway, here is the review that I wrote for my college's student newspaper.


“Spellbound” shines as brightest star among festival’s selections

A Review
By Marc Femenella
Arts & Entertainment Editor

Amidst all the celebrities and high-profile films that were shown at this year’s Savannah Video and Film Festival it was easy to miss some of the gala’s hidden gems. This year’s pearl was “Spellbound”, a feature-length documentary about eight kids and their journey to the National Spelling Bee.

The idea could easily be fodder for the next Christopher Guest “mockumentary”; Guest has made some of the best fake-documentaries from trying to imitate real people and real life, without going exceedingly over the top (see “Drop Dead Gorgeous” for plenty of that and failed Guest-like rip-offs).

Perhaps that is what makes “Spellbound” so hilarious. While it is very real indeed, it never tries too hard nor does it make its subjects out to be characters rather than actual people. When the mother of April describes herself as not “pestimistic” we laugh at the irony of the situation, but also see why this spelling bee is so important for both her and her daughter; this woman wants her daughter to achieve something more. Likewise, other parents are never made out to be fools. Neil’s father, we can tell, is a no-nonsense slave driver when it comes to his son’s word studying, but instead of letting us sit in judgment of the man, the director lets the father explain himself. He, like all the rest, simply wants his children to succeed. There are no implied cases of “child abuse” (as the Bee is described at one point) shown by any of these parents. If anything, the children are just as much or more of a driving force.

The director and cinematographer, Jeffrey Blitz, takes the time to let the camera roll a little bit more. In Angela’s story, the small ranching town outside Albuquerque is shown as decaying, poor and a coffee stain on the map of America, yet we see no trailer park residents saying outrageous statements to the camera nor do any of the kids seem particularly depressed about their situation. This spelling bee may be a beacon of light for many, but they have loving families and pride for where they come from. Blitz understands that just because he has the camera doesn’t mean he must be condescending.

The humor, however, cannot be denied. One particular favorite for most at the screening was Harry, an odd boy who at one point answers a question in the form of a singing robot. His detached confidence is tested, as we see later, at the Nationals when he gives perhaps the greatest “performance” of all, complete with amazing facial contortions and sound effects.

The excellent editing of the film (by Yana Gorskaya) also contributes to the film feeling less like a spelling bee and more like a race for your life. By the time the final Bee was in full swing the audience at the screening was clapping and “awwwing” in a way unseen at most games in the major leagues. Some of the more touching moments come from the losers of the competition, when they confess relief at the journey’s end, most with an attitude of excellent sportsmanship.

Some supporting good marks should go to the simple-yet-effective graphics used in the film that help keep us organized while we move from story to story (eventually they keep track of who is winning and who has lost). Also, the music by Daniel Hulsizer, while “American Beauty”-esque, has just the right qualities of playfulness and thoughtfulness to tie each sequence together.

Making a funny, but evenhanded documentary is not an easy thing to do. While a filmmaker like Michael Moore (“Roger & Me”, “Bowling For Columbine”) can certainly make his films funny and entertaining, he is devoid of any level of impartiality. Granted a spelling bee is not gun control or unemployment, but when trying to capture the “common folk” of America, Blitz and producer Sean Welch do so with surprising honesty.

The power and influence of the documentary cannot be denied, even in times such as ours and if “Spellbound” gets the recognition (and distribution) it deserves it will no doubt become the “Chariots of Fire” for all the young spellers around the world.