Lana Šlezić’s Bee Nation, this year’s official opening night selection for Hot Docs, takes viewers to rural Saskatchewan, where for the first time in the history of the Canadian National Spelling Bee, kids from First Nations reservations are preparing to compete for a spot in the illustrious final competition in Toronto and to potentially get a leg up on their futures. These kids – in grades 3 through 8 – will find their spelling abilities put to the ultimate test and experience immense pressure to push them further in the competition.
Unlike most films that focus on First Nations issues, Bee Nation places an emphasis on positivity, not on poverty, although that is addressed by some understandably frustrated adults bemoaning lack of educational funding. At every turn, Šlezić’s subjects have supportive parents or families – many who want to learn from their own parents’ mistakes – to lean back on. There’s a real sense of community, heritage, friendship, and camaraderie between the contestants. It’s a warm hearted film about believing in yourself and remembering that winning everything you attempt isn’t the only step towards a bright future.
I’m sure most adults couldn’t memorize the spellings of over 400 hard to spell words in the same way these kids apply themselves to their studies, and I doubt most adults would have the same kind of support to get them through the tough times. For that fact alone, this is a film that kids and adults can watch and enjoy in fairly equal measure.