Spelling bee documentary “Spelling the Dream” will be released on Netflix on Wednesday, while “Driveways” is available on numerous on-demand platforms.As many continue to watch movies at home on streaming services while theaters remain closed because of COVID-19, two nationally notable films feature Sarasota connections.
Netflix will release “Spelling the Dream,” a documentary about the Scripps National Spelling Bee directed by Sarasota-raised filmmaker Sam Rega, on Wednesday. And “Driveways,” an acclaimed drama co-starring the late Brian Dennehy released earlier this month and available now on various on-demand platforms, featured Sarasota filmmaker Shaun Greenspan as a production consultant.
“Driveways” follows a mother (Hong Chau) who travels to clean out her deceased sister’s house along with her young son (Lucas Jaye), who befriends a retired Korean War veteran (Dennehy) living next door. The film earned two Independent Spirit Award nominations and currently has 83 out of 100 on the review website Metacritic, signaling “universal acclaim.”
Greenspan, co-owner of Sarasota production company TriForce Pictures, also served as associate producer on “Skin,” another nationally released feature based on the real-life tale of a reformed white supremacist. That film’s production company Maven Pictures then sent him the screenplay for “Driveways.”
“It was just a beautiful script that actually made me laugh out loud like three or four times,” Greenspan said. “And it was so touching.”
As with “Skin,” Greenspan said his involvement was in raising money, with fellow Sarasota area residents Lee-Ann Corry and Dean Eisner also serving in consultant and production consultant roles on “Driveways.” He also got to attend last year’s Berlin International Film Festival and Tribeca Film Festival, both films screening at each.
Though it took more than a year for “Driveways” to be released, Greenspan said the timing was serendipitous. The film provides both a fitting swan song for Dennehy, who died in April shortly before its release, and a gentle, intimate story in turbulent times.
“This movie during this time, after Brian Dennehy passes away, is a hug from the filmmaker Andrew Ahn and Brian Dennehy, who’s also saying goodbye to basically the world,” Greenspan said.
“Spelling the Dream” follows four Indian-American students as they compete in hopes of winning the Scripps National Spelling Bee and the community’s overall relationship with the tournament, which has featured Indian-American winners for the past 12 years. It also features interviews with CNN personalities Sanjay Gupta and Fareed Zakaria, comedian Hari Kondabolu, ESPN anchor Kevin Negandhi (who spent several years as a sports reporter at ABC7 in Sarasota) and others.
Rega previously told the Herald-Tribune he was happy that the years-long process of making the documentary will conclude with a Netflix release, where the movie will be largely accessible to audiences.
“It’s the perfect ending to the film’s journey,” Rega said. “We are thankful to have had the opportunity and support from our producers and Netflix to bring our vision to life and tell the story how we wanted to. We hope viewers will be as immersed in this story as we have become and fall in love with our spellers.”
Now based in New York, Rega graduated in 2004 from Sarasota’s The Out-of-Door Academy, where he would make movies for school projects. He also saw movies with his family at the Sarasota Film Festival and interned at the festival as a high school senior.
“I can look back on my upbringing in Sarasota and see the impact that it had on myself as a filmmaker,” Rega said.