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90-Second Newbery 2016: Portland!

April 28, 2016

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OK, I admit it, I’m definitely really too late blogging about this. But better late than never! On Sunday, February 21st we had a great 90-Second Newbery Film Festival screening in Portland, OR! We did it at the studios of Portland Community Media TV, and it was a perfect fit because every year PCMTV submits some fantastic movies. I was thrilled to do the screening at their space!

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The screening was co-hosted by me and my longtime Portland partner-in-crime, the young Jacob von Borg. The first few years I did the 90-Second Newbery in Portland, fantastic local authors co-hosted it with me, such as Laini Taylor and Dale Basye. They were great! But Jacob has submitted a bunch of 90-Second Newberys every year, plus he’s a fan of The Order of Odd-Fish and he and siblings have done incredible fan art of it, so I thought, why not have Jacob be the co-host? It turned out to be a smart move: he’s fantastic! Here we are in the opening skit:

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Let’s check out some of the great movies from Portland that were featured at the screening! Here’s Ruth Gannett’s 1949 Honor Book My Father’s Dragon—done entirely in Claymation by Anya Schooler:

Amazing! The level of craft in this is through the roof—the claymation is so fluid and expressive! The style looked like it was made by the Wallace and Gromit people. I love how Anya is able to signal so much subtle emotion and storytelling power out of the smallest twitch of clay: the quirk or scrunch of an eyebrow, an upraised finger or a waving of arms. The set was beautiful and resourceful (that flowing water!) and the sound design was so precise and perfect. And when the dragon licked the man and the man hugged the dragon, it was truly an earned emotional moment. (And oh, that awesome determined look in the dragon’s eyes before he took off!)

Here’s another movie made in cooperation with Portland Community Media TV, an adaptation of E.B. White’s 1953 Honor Book Charlotte’s Web:

Another winner! That was clever how the scenes were interspersed by the flipping pages of the book itself. The stop-motion animals in the background of the puppet narrator was exactly the kind of detail that gives a movie great texture. I love the way Fern’s uncle delivers the line “Wilbur, you’re gonna die tonight!” with those clouds scooting around in the background, and then licking his lips grotesquely, as the bass tones underline the gravity of Wilbur’s situation. “Wilbur” was so cute, Charlotte’s death was somehow hilarious, and the crowd’s emotional reactions were great (and that one kid’s fake mustache!). Great wrap-up with the spider babies, and while everyone is saying “goodbye!” I like how one kid says it in a threatening tone, and another just blurts “how you doing?”

Next up is an adaptation of William Steig’s 1983 Honor Book Doctor DeSoto, also by the folks at Portland Community Media TV:

I loved the busy long shot at the beginning, with the stop-motion animals all scurrying around in the daily work of Dr. Desoto’s office. And then it launched straight into a charming, assured, beautifully-done sock puppet show, complete with funny voices and great lines (“Yeah, but you’re not the one who has to go in his mouth!” “Mmm, I love raw mice with salt!”) I like how the passage of time is shown by making the moon sail across the sky and the sun rise while Dr. DeSoto and his wife discuss the problem. The fast-forward way that the puppets twitch and dance was was a nice touch. Great work!

Here’s Grace Lin’s 2010 Honor Book Where the Mountain Meets the Moon as adapted by local Portland homeschooler’s Anneke, Naomi, and Ilse:

What an elaborate, beautiful, well-told adaptation of “Where the Mountain Meets the Moon” this is! I’m in awe of the wonderfully elaborately made puppets! (That dragon! The king! So many details!) And I love the way the filmmakers use perspective to make the bridge look like it’s really trailing off to the moon. I like how they took the time and care to make the backgrounds look good too, especially when Minli meets the old man in the moon . . . it has a real outer-space feel. And the music sounds great too!

My co-host Jacob von Borg and his family make a 90-Second Newbery every year (sometimes even a few of them!) and this year was no exception. Here’s their take on Katherine Paterson’s 1978 Medal winner Bridge to Terabithia:

I love the ridiculous bizarre voices and the breezy way they handled the story. (Good lines too: “fight evil monsters—like my mother?”) I particularly liked the drinkin’ mother’s heartless way of announcing that Leslie was dead—and how she thought Jesse was dead too, and didn’t seem to care too much! Jesse’s back-and-forth sprint of grief was funny too. And the tag with the wig at the end was perfect!

Thanks so much, everyone at Portland Community Media TV and Jacob von Borg and all the filmmakers and audience who came! Portland is always a high point of the 90-Second Newbery tour for me every year. Here’s the final montage we used at the end of the night, that brought together clips of every movie we featured that night:

90-Second Newbery 2016: Minnesota!

March 29, 2016

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On Saturday, February 27 we screened the fifth annual 90-Second Newbery Film Festival at the Central Library in Minneapolis! It’s the second time we’ve done the show in Minnesota. And just like last year, this is one of the most engaged, enthusiastic, in-it-to-win-it crowds of filmmakers and fans in my 90-Second Newbery tour!

Minnesota author Kelly Barnhill (The Witch’s Boy, The Mostly True Story of Jack, Iron-Hearted Violet) joined me again to co-host. Not only is Kelly a firecracker onstage, she also saved the show when we had a technical glitch—while I was frantically rebooting the computer, Kelly gracefully stepped in and did 5-minute improv / standup / consciousness-raising session with the audience. What could’ve been a disaster turned into a highlight of the show!

At the end of the show, we gathered all the filmmakers onstage for a group picture. I’m draped glamorously on the floor in front of them:

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At these 90-Second Newbery screenings, I like to show a mix of movies: roughly half are the best I’ve received from all over the country, and half purely local entries. We led off this year’s screening with a movie I’ve shown all over: an adaptation of Virginia Hamilton’s 1989 Newbery Honor Book In The Beginning: Creation Stories from Around the World, by Tristan Stephan:

As I said in my previous post about this movie, all the puppets are beautifully drawn and intricately articulated, and I particularly loved the hilarious way Odin kicks Ymir’s head straight off! The level of craftsmanship on this one is impressive. I also appreciated that it’s an adaptation of one of the more obscure Newbery honorees. Amazing!

Here’s another great entry from Minneapolis, by Miles, Grace, and Kaden from Worthington Middle School. It’s of Kate DiCamillo’s 2004 Medal Winner, The Tale of Despereaux:

Ambitious, resourceful, and entertaining! I loved how they made Despereaux look small from the very first shot, with that cleverly-deployed green screen of him next to a mouse hole. . . and then followed it up immediately with a really impressive stop-motion animation of the mice in council! I also liked how they used the basement as the “dungeon.” The swordfight was goofy fun, and I liked how cutting off the tail resulted in not screams of pain, but giggles!

Next up: Gary Paulsen’s 1988 Honor Book Hatchet, as adapted by Andrew, Ryan, and Cameron of Inver Grove Heights Middle School:

Very creative to tell the story of Hatchet in the style of a news report, Anchorman-style! It was wonderfully absurd that the the hatchet was clearly a tennis racket. So many great moments in this one, like the stuffed panda bear attacking Brian in the forest, and how the reporter keeps snarling “Gnarly dude!” or “Radical,” and how Brian prefaces every anecdote with the phrase “I remember it just like it was yesterday” before he gazes significantly off into the distance. It was also entertaining how the reporter “signs off” with a mic drop . . . wait, right before he MURDERS BRIAN? This movie is insane in all the right ways.

Here’s another Hatchet, this time by Leo, Jackson, and Galen of Sanford Middle School:

I like the twist of making it a step-by-step “guide to surviving in nature,” complete with disclaimer at the beginning. Good green screen work and voiceover making the different beats of the story clear. Perfect sound effect when he stabs the fish! And it was fun when Brian got mauled (and resourceful use of sound effect there with the bear growl!) I was amused when Brian called out to the passing plane way up in the air, “Look 35,000 feet below!”

Here’s another survival story, but this time about a mouse: William Steig’s 1977 Honor Book Abel’s Island, as adapted by Ruthie Morgan:

Quite resourceful to do the entire story all in one bedroom! It proves how you can do a lot with a little: using the flashing of the lights going on and off to simulate a storm, using blue scarves to represent flying water . . . and those were both cool boats that Abel made!

Here is Lake Middle School’s adaptation of Richard Peck’s 1999 Honor Book A Long Way From Chicago, which is about the various antics of two children and their Grandma Dowdel in the 1930s:

This one starts with a literal BANG, with the awesome special effects of the privy blowing up! I liked the “no unnecessary product placement” sign followed by the blatant display of the McDonald’s bag. The fast-forward effect was used well to get the accelerated oldey-tymey movie effect. The performances of the kids are suitably baffled and the performance of Grandma Dowdel is suitably smug and cantankerous. Great job with music too!

Next up is Highlands Elementary’s adaptation of Katherine Paterson’s 1978 Medal Winner Bridge to Terabithia:

Goofy and inspired! I loved the “Prince Tarian” dog and I appreciated how the filmmakers actually went outside in the woods to film the Terabithia scenes. Jesse’s family is hilariously perfunctory about Leslie being dead—indeed, his little sister seems to think it’s a “happy ending!”

Next up is the “Cookies” vignette from Arnold Lobel’s 1973 Honor Book Frog and Toad Together, as adapted by Josie, James, Erik, Kai, and Madeleine:

Good costumes for Frog and Toad! Actually . . . those masks are a little terrifying! The way they hop about is very frog-and-toad-like, I liked that. And I enjoyed how the birds descend upon the cookies at the end!

Here’s another not-so-well-known Newbery honoree, Sharon Creech’s 2001 Honor Book The Wanderer, as adapted by Anna and Alexia:

Here’s another example of doing a lot with limited resources—I liked how the difference between “Cody” and “Brian” and “Bompi” can be signified by a red or yellow or black shirt. I loved the cardboard boat the SS Awesome, and the juggling bit was fun too, especially with the admission of “sort of” at the end. The expressions after the line “we also know how to draw” bit were good too. Well done!

Angel, Andrew, Armann, and Derrick made this adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s 1963 Medal Winner A Wrinkle in Time:

I liked the creepy outfits of the witches, and the crazy hyperspace effect that took them to Camazotz! When Charles bows down to IT, it’s legitimately unsettling, and I liked IT’s voice. Pretty funny when Meg kicks IT . . . and the disembodied brain splits into two pieces. Cool Star-Trek-style beam-me-up credits!

Next up: E.L. Konigsburg’s 1968 Medal Winner From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by Gavin K., Jenny R., and Clark W. of St. Paul Academy and Summit School:

The script was engaging and the acting really pulled me into the story. The quick cutaway when Jamie says he is a gambler is quite funny. I like the montage when they are running away, and the courtly, super-polite exchange “To the library, Lady Claudia? To the library, Sir James!” Funny and committed and believable acting from everyone!

Malaya N., Tylyn H., and Symira H-C. of the FAIR School in Crystal, MN did this take on Louis Sachar’s 1999 Medal Winner Holes:

A clever idea to tell the story of Holes as a kind of talk show! Bonus points for how it was the two girls on the right who did all the talking, while the girl on the left said almost nothing! The total commitment they had to the idea of telling the story in terms of a morning show, with the appropriate mannerisms and vocal cadences, was so well done. The high five for Stanley’s bad luck was hilarious. I love how the girl on the right drinks straight from the pitcher. And especially how when the girl on the left finally says something (“It’s like I don’t even know what to say . . . it’s like . . . “) the whole thing just cuts off! The energy and enthusiasm and verve of this short put it over the top.

Here’s a different version of Holes, by Bryce, Brayden, Hunter, and Brody of Oneka Elementary School

This quick, precise narration told the story crisply, not a word wasted! I liked the resourcefulness of the “shovel” made out of construction paper. The green-screen way that Stanley and Zero fall into the hole was clever. I like the dilating “wipe” effect that was consistently used to switch scenes, giving the whole thing a kind of rhythm. Good silent acting all throughout by the students. Great job!

Oh! And before we go, one more Hatchet, by Noah of Glacier Hills Elementary:

Resourceful green-screen work, and I liked especially the part where Brian is attacked by the wild animal!

We also got some great movies from Anwatin Middle School, but they made it such that I can’t embed them on the page. You should check out Britany’s Tale of Despereaux (made with dolls!), and Kjersten’s Ella Enchanted (made with string!) and Meghan and Jenna’s Frog and Toad Together (done with paper cut-outs!).

And of course, here’s the final montage of all the movies. Thanks to all the filmmakers, students, teachers, families, and everyone who attended. Thanks again to Kelly Barnhill for co-hosting and to Jen Verbrugge and Jen Nelson of the Minnesota Department of Education for making it all possible. And thanks to the Central Library in Minneapolis for letting us put it all on. See you next year!

90-Second Newbery 2016: Thank you, New York and Brooklyn Public Libraries!

March 11, 2016

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It’s been a whirlwind of 90-Second Newbery Film Festival screenings! I’ve already blogged about our screenings in San Antonio, Chicago, Oakland and San Francisco; I haven’t yet recapped Tacoma, Portland, and Minneapolis, but I will soon!

In the meantime: on March 5 and 6 we did back-to-back screenings at the New York Public Library and the Brooklyn Public Library. At the NYPL I was lucky enough to get the hilarious Peter Lerangis as my co-host, the author of the Seven Wonders series—a series for which the concluding book just dropped (he’s on tour promoting it now)! At the Brooklyn Public Library my co-host was the wonderful Torrey Maldonado, author of Secret Saturdays. They were stellar hosts, and we had huge crowds at both events!

I didn’t manage to get a video of the opening of the Brooklyn show with Torrey, but we did get a video of the opening of the NYPL show with me and Peter, which you can see above. Since this is the fifth year of the 90-Second Newbery, in the opening I show a short movie about the first five years of the film festival—which is interrupted by a time-traveling Peter, who has come back from five years in the future, and has disturbing news of what the 90-Second Newbery is going to become. It all ends with multiple time-travel doublecrossing, a light saber battle, and of course a song! Check out our opening at the New York Public Library above.

And here are Torrey and I with some of the young audience and filmmakers at the Brooklyn Public Library:

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Aside from the movies I’m showing all over the country, what locally-made movies did we feature at the New York screenings? Check out Ossining Public Library’s adaptation of Patricia MacLachlan’s 1986 Medal Winner Sarah, Plain and Tall—but done with a twist: in science fiction style! Instead of Sarah being a mail-order bride, she’s a Vulcan! I give you Sarah, Plain and Logical:

What a brilliant idea to do Sarah, Plain and Tall with terraforming space frontiersmen instead of early American settlers! I loved the dialogue (“I mean, it HAS been six hours” and “You should try Spacebook”) and I love how deeply they committed to making the movie look good, with resourceful green screen, elaborate costumes, flying-spaceship scenes, original music, and even a “Spacebook” page made specifically for the movie! The idea of having Sarah be a Spock-like Vulcan was inspired, and I love that she has a literal PET ROCK. When they’re all singing along in Vulcan at the end, with a montage of fun activities, all of which have “Sprock” the pet rock floating weirdly in the background, I just about lost it. Brilliant work, Ossining Public Library! (And check it out—I myself have a cameo as Admiral Ackbar at the beginning!)

Next up, Lois Lowry’s 1990 Medal Winner Number the Stars, as made by Juliet and Leah:

What a breakneck ride through Number the Stars! Whoever was playing the Nazis really tore into their role with gusto. It hits all the major plot points in the book with brisk clarity, especially the trick with the funeral . . . and this probably the first mention of cocaine in 90-Second Newbery history. Great job, Juliet and Leah!

Every year we get a bunch of super 90-Second Newbery videos from Jim Adams’ class at the Foote School in New Haven, CT. Here’s the one I featured at the NYPL screening: Jasmine, Jillian, and Nick’s adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s 2009 Medal Winner The Graveyard Book:

A really funny script! “Don’t tell the girl, but I’m actually gonna kill her friend!” and “I will never see you again. You should cry now” were ace lines. I like that the filmmakers took the time to get gravestones for the set. Fun Sleer scene too!

Last year and this year too we got submissions from the talented Parrino family who live outside New York. This first one, by Jillian Parrino, has a great twist: it’s Gail Carson Levine’s 1998 Honor Book Ella Enchanted done in the style of Star Wars!

What a bonkers, inspired idea! I love how it nails all the details specific to Star Wars, from the John Williams music and opening crawl to the resourceful use of modified cut-outs of the characters like Captain Phasma, Princess Leia, the stormtroopers, Rey, Finn, Jabba the Hutt, etc. in various environments. Funny use of the Jedi mind trick on the ogres, I mean, Jabba! And we even got a light saber duel at the end, inside Ella’s mind, against Kylo Ren! Fantastic work!

But that’s not all we got from the Parrino family. Joseph Parrino did this elaborate stop-motion Lego version of Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s 1968 Honor Book The Egypt Game:

A very thorough and complete retelling of the story! The sets were really well done (the inside of the junk shop! the junkyard in back!) The story was briskly and clearly told. The way Toby and Ken come down the fence head-first was kind of hilarious! And good background music throughout.

But wait! We have another stop-motion Lego movie! This one is by Violet and Ocean of the Brooklyn Public Library, Carroll Gardens branch, and it’s of Carl Hiaasen’s 2003 Honor Book Hoot:

The animation looks fantastic, so detailed and fluid. And the sound effects and voiceover acting really pulled it all together! I especially liked it when the owl comes zooming by in the construction site. And I thought it was funny how the alligator in the toilet was HUGE (and . . . mooed!). The protest was a great scene, so elaborate and well-done, with lots of jump cuts between the protestors giving an appropriately chaotic impression! (And I liked the chants of “We love owls! We hate pancakes!” and the picket sign that suggested she take the pancake house to Russia). It was clever the way they made the hero “swim” at the end. And I always enjoy a great homemade song over the closing credits.

Here I am with the makers of Hoot, Violet and Ocean, with their facilitator Jodi from the Carroll Gardens branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. Check out their Hoot-themed T-shirts they wore especially for the event:

x_me with violet and ocean and jodi in brooklyn

We also featured Ruth Sawyer’s 1937 Medal Winner Roller Skates, as adapted by Mohana Buckley, a super-talented girl who has contributed a movie almost every year of the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival, and Louis Sachar’s 1999 Medal Winner Holes as adapted by the folks at Camp Mel. However, both those videos are private or not shared online . . . so if you weren’t at the screening, I’m afraid you’re out of luck!

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Thanks to Peter Lerangis and Torrey Maldonado for co-hosting, Anna Taylor and everyone at the New York Public Library, Paquita Campoverde and Brandon Graham and everyone at the Brooklyn Public Library, and of course all the filmmakers and friends and family who made movies and came out to the screenings! Here’s the closing montage we used to end the NYPL show, of all the movies we showed in New York and Brooklyn:

Thanks again! See you next year!

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