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You think spelling bees are for wussies? You won’t after seeing Spellbound, a documentary that puts reality TV to shame by focusing on eight contestants (out of 248, and no one past the eighth grade) who entered the 1999 National Spelling Bee, a two-day bloodbath.

Director Jeff Blitz gets in close to Angela Arenivar, April Degideo, Ashley White, Emily Stagg, Harry Altiman, Ted Brigham, Napur Lala and their families. Whether from a Texas ranch, a Missouri trailer park or a Washington, D.C., housing project, these spellers define something unique about the American character. By the time they’re onstage, your pulse is pounding right along with theirs. Spell this movie: g-r-e-a-t.

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