Documentary on Indian American Spelling Bee Champs Debuts at Film Festivals

A soon-to-be released documentary on the rise and dominance of Indian American kids in spelling bee competitions across the United States will be making the major film festival rounds starting this month.

The “Breaking the Bee” documentary will be shown on April 6 and 8 at the Cleveland International Film Festival, followed by a screening at the New York Indian Film Festival in New York City May 12.

“Breaking the Bee” follows four second-generation Indian-American children, ages 7 to 14, over the course of a year, or “bee season,” as they train to reach (and win) the 2017 Scripps National Spelling Bee (see earlier India-West story here). It’s an inside look at studying, family life, competing in qualifying bees, and being a kid with big dreams. Some are in their final year of eligibility while others are just beginning their spelling careers.

With expert commentary from CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Fareed Zakaria, comedian Hari Kondabolu, ESPN’s Kevin Negandhi, and past Scripps winners, the film offers an analysis into what drives this trend, while exploring the ups and downs of chasing a dream and pondering just how long this incredible trend can last, according to a press release.

The film is directed by Sam Rega and produced by Chris Weller, both of whom worked at Business Insider when they got the idea to produce the film.

Since 1999, all but four contest winners have been Indian American, and of the 285-plus children who make it to Scripps each year, roughly 25% come from families of Indian descent. This is something of an anomaly, as Indian Americans make up just 1% of the United States population.

The perfect storm has been brewing for decades — from the 1965 immigration law that eliminated quota systems for Indian immigrants, thus driving a wave of highly-educated individuals to come to the United States, to the formation of Indian-only spelling bees, to the explosion of mainstream interest in competitive spelling, ever since ESPN began broadcasting the Scripps Bee in 1994.

The film details the South Asian Spelling Bee’s contribution to this phenomenon with interviews with its founder, Rahul Walia. The SASB was started in 2008; since then, many of its winners have gone on to win at Scripps as well.

“It’s the gold standard of the Spelling Bee,” said Usha and Ganesh Dasari, parents of the spelling bee duo Shobha and Shourav. Shourav is one of the four spellers followed in “Breaking the Bee.”

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