The young person's "road to the championship" is a storytelling structure rich with built-in parallels to the journey of adolescence, and as a result, it's a road well-traveled in contemporary documentary tradition (see: Spellbound, Mad Hot Ballroom, Louder Than a Bomb). Bible Quiz focuses on a niche version of quiz bowl that involves memorizing thousands of Bible verses; the filmmakers use this familiar structure to follow one three-person team as they train and travel to the National Championship. But unlike many of its antecedents, Bible Quiz really isn't about whether or not its subjects win the top prize. Midway through the film, 17-year-old quizzer Mikayla Irle states that she doesn't care about Bible Quiz that much -- a bit of outright underdog-story blasphemy.
Bible Quiz is the first feature from director Nicole Teeny, and it's clear where her interests lie. The competitive sequences here are sometimes confusingly esoteric, and Irle's teammates, though they receive significant screen time, remain somewhat mysterious. But while the culture may not be totally fleshed out, the protagonist is. Through interviews and fly-on-the-wall footage, the film subtly depicts Irle's growing sense of independence from her peers. During a group outing to Seattle following a regional tournament, Irle watches uncomfortably as a rival team clashes with a vehemently anti-religious busker. When he defiantly starts playing R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion," she leaves him a dollar.
Teeny's film has a similar tone to seminal MTV doc shows like True Life, and, like them, it's unapologetically small in scope. Still, the treatment feels right for its thoughtful teenage subject. Bible Quiz may sometimes feel tentative, but it's also vulnerable and charming.