By Sunny Layne
Spelling Bee junkies never had it so good.
More than 100 BYU students discovered the unsung glory of the unconventional competition and its extraordinary participants Thursday night in a viewing of the Academy Award-nominated documentary, “Spellbound.”
After grinning ear-to-ear for nearly two hours, bursting into laughter and then wiping a few tears, the audience erupted into enthusiastic applause.
“It totally blew me away,” said BYU film major Kohl Glass. “Some films really come together. This was one of them. It was just incredible.”
The film”s producer, Sean Welch, came to BYU from California courtesy of film professor April Chabries, who met Welch at a film festival.
Chabries said one of the reasons Welch”s visit was so exciting is he spent two hours of valuable one-on-one time with BYU film students, reviewing their work and giving them pointers.
Professor Chabries also said students gave Welch rave reviews for his insight and help.
Welch seemed equally impressed with the students he met.
“Sean said that our student work here rivals the graduate student work at USC,” Chabries said.
Along with being impressed with the students” films, Welch and his author girlfriend, Tanya Norman, noticed something remarkable about BYU.
“We can”t even talk about how great it is to be here,” Norman said. “We were walking around campus while the film was playing, and we absolutely loved it. We both said, ”This feels like the real heartland.” And what is it with the sparkles? Everyone”s just really sparkly and happy. And besides that, all the students we met with are so bright.”
During the question-and-answer session after the film, Welch referred often to his devotion and respect for the young people and their families in the film.
“The families opened up to us in an amazing way,” Welch said. “That is the reason why the film is as successful as it is.”
Bob Nelson, chair of Theatre and Media Arts, said the film”s strong human-interest appeal affected students more than any other aspect.
“I asked a question about the technical stuff, because I thought these filmmaking kids ought to be asking about technical stuff,” he said. “There were only two technical questions. Everybody was asking about the story. About the people, about the connections to the people. And further insights about the families of the individuals. That”s what strong filmmaking and strong literature are.”
Film major Leith Tarr said she admires “Spellbound” for the respectful manner with which it portrayed its characters.
“They don”t try to make fun of their subjects,” she said. “They were totally true to their subjects. Even in the question and answer session, Welch remained true to them. And he obviously formed a bond with them, and even 5 years later, he still has a bond with those people, and so you know that this is a documentary straight from the heart, and it comes out in the editing and in the way it is portrayed.
“Spellbound” comes out on DVD Jan. 20.
Students have the opportunity to sample another documentary, “The Smith Family,” Wednesday, October 29 at 1 p.m. in room 205 of the JRCB.
The film”s award-winning producer-director, Tasha Oldham, will be on campus to work with students one-on-one.
The film, written and assistant-produced by Professor Chabries, tells the shocking story of a Utah family that deals with infidelity, HIV, forgiveness and loyalty.