Netflix has announced they will be releasing a new documentary about the Scripps National Spelling Bee on May 23, 2020. The film is called Spelling the Dream and features Akash Vukoti, who is from San Angelo.
The announcement of the film’s release came just as officials postponed the 93rd Scripps National Spelling Bee due to concerns and mandates regarding COVID-19.
Netflix described the film on their website: “An Indian-American competitor has won the prestigious Scripps National Spelling Bee for the past 12 years straight, making the trend one of the longest in sports history. SPELLING THE DREAM chronicles the ups and downs of four Indian-American students as they compete to realize their dream of winning the iconic tournament. With fascinating perspectives from CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Fareed Zakaria, comedian Hari Kondabolu, ESPN’s Kevin Negandhi, 1999 Scripps National Spelling Bee winner, Nupur Lala, and others, the film explores the reasons behind this incredible winning streak and what it means for the community. Directed and produced by Sam Rega. Produced by Chris Weller.”
The following is a Q & A with the Director of the film, Sam Rega:
Senora Scott: Why did you choose to do a film on the spelling bee?
Sam Rega: The film’s producer, Chris Weller, came to me with the idea back in the fall of 2015. We’ve both been fans of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, but Chris was much more a die-hard fan than I was. Chris has a very strong eye for trends, and I’m a big sports documentary fan. He’d noticed that year after year Indian-American children were winning the Bee. He pitched me on this interesting trend as I had finished a documentary, “League of Millions,” that followed a professional video game team, and thought there could be a similar sports documentary. After months of research, interviews, and meeting spellers, we quickly saw there were numerous factors that came together to create this dynasty and knew we had to tell this story since it was yet to be told.
SS: This is an amazing contest with brilliant participants but doesn’t always get the attention, let’s say, an NFL team/game would get. Do you hope this documentary will influence people’s perspective on the value of education?
SR: I have to say the prime time finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee that air on ESPN every year has a massive following. It trends on social media, and often competes with NBA playoffs. Many viewers tuning into the Bee over the playoffs! It’s that one time of year where people at home can watch these amazing spellers and marvel at their talent. As far people’s perspective on education, I do hope this film stresses the value of education but also other factors like dedication, perseverance, sacrifice. One can apply all of these to any passion, and I hope that viewers recognize these intangible factors. I also believe in an era where spelling takes on many abbreviated forms in text messages, email, etc, that this film shows that spelling still matters to many!
SS: If you had to choose, what is one thing you’d want the viewers to take away from this documentary?
SR: One of the most important things in this film is seeing how passionate these children are. The drive comes from the spellers. And with any pursuit in life, if you are passionate, learn from your mistakes, and constantly grow, then you are already winning. You don’t need a trophy to tell you that you are the best. These children truly embody being professionals at their craft and showing the utmost sportsmanship. I’ll also note, that this film should put to rest any suggestion that spelling bees are not a support. Spelling is 100% a sport 🙂 Don’t forget they compete on ESPN next to Lebron James and Serena Williams.
SS: What has the process of making this film been like?
SR: Chris Weller first pitched the idea to me in the fall of 2015. We began production at the start of 2017. We had a successful award-winning film festival run in 2018 and the film is being released as a Netflix Original Documentary on May 23. It’s been a multi-year journey, and we’re thrilled to be part of the Netflix family. In this time, Chris has gotten engaged. I’ve gotten engaged, married, and have an 11-month old daughter. It’s not only been a journey for ourselves but my wife and Chris’s fiance as well!
Also, we filmed over the 2016 and 2017 Scripps National Spelling Bee seasons. A number of the 2019 Octochamps appear in the footage we captured over the years. If you look closely you’ll see them on stage at bees and in the audiences. It’s fun to see them grow up over the years and really master their craft.
The following is a Q & A with Akash Vukoti:
SS: What is it like to represent and be tied to West Texas/San Angelo on such a major stage?
Akash Vukoti: I feel very proud to represent West Texas, specifically San Angelo! It was from here that I made history by becoming the first ever first grader to compete in the history of the Scripps National Spelling Bee. This great city of San Angelo gave me an opportunity for which I am truly indebted!
From Little Big Shots, to Dancing with the Stars, to my recent India trip to receive the Global Child Prodigy Award 2020, everything happened right from here. So, I am very happy to call myself a proud West Texan and San Angeloan!
SS: Do you feel pressure or is it a heavy weight to carry being such an elite speller?
AV: I love languages and, in particular, English orthography, which means “the spelling of words”. My parents noticed my passion for languages, especially English, when I was less than 2 years old. At that time, I was just following my passion for the English language and words. But now, everyone is looking up to me at the Nationals and so, naturally, I would feel a little pressure.
SS: What would you say to other kids who want to participate in the spelling bee or have a goal they’d like to accomplish?
AV: Just like any competition, if you want to participate in the bee, you should have a passion for the English language and the words. This is the prerequisite. Then I would say that you should set up a clear goal. Planning the route map for achieving the goal is the next step. Once that’s done, the major part comes along; working hard towards the goal. It may not be easy, but when you work hard from your heart towards the goal, the work will pay off and you will reach your goal. The most important thing is that you should enjoy this whole process. If you don’t like studying words, then there isn’t really a point of doing so in the first place. The major advantage for competing in the Spelling Bee competition is even if you don’t win it you will be going home with tremendous vocabulary and knowledge in general that would be useful for whatever career you choose in the future! So, just believe in yourself, work hard, and success will follow you!
SS: You’ve already achieved so much at a young age, what do you think the future holds for you?
AV: I’m really excited, because a lot of things are interesting to me! I want to do a lot of different things in the future, like becoming an astronaut, a TV show host, or maybe even the CEO of a company. I really love companies and finance, because it’s really interesting. I also want to help people too via public service. I guess we’ll just have to see what the future holds for me. Whatever I choose to do, I will put my whole heart to it and I will make sure I 100% thoroughly enjoy it.