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The Majesty and Pageantry of the CHICAGO 2020 90-Second Newbery Film Festival!

March 19, 2020

Did you enjoy the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival? Do you want us to keep doing it? Then please help us out with a tax-deductible donation. Our fiscal sponsor is Fractured Atlas, a nonprofit arts service organization.

Last Sunday, March 8, what feels like a million years ago, we did the Chicago screening of the ninth annual 90-Second Newbery Film Festival. We got it in right under the wire—much has changed in just the last few days! This Chicago screening will probably be our last live screening for this spring. Because of coronavirus, unfortunately we are canceling/postponing the March and April shows in Boston, Salt Lake City, Ogden UT, Orem UT, and Boulder CO. (As for the Minneapolis show, we’re going to live-stream it. Details to come.)

What a great show to go out on, though! We packed the Harold Washington Library Center’s Pritzker Auditorium, and my co-host Keir Graff (author of The Phantom Tower and The Matchstick Castle) was, as always, a hilarious and game-for-anything co-host. Check out our opening skit above, in which I’ve Scrooge-ishly “lost the Newbery spirit,” and therefore I’m visited by ghosts of Newbery past, present, and future (all played by Keir) . . . culminating in a rewritten version of “The Greatest Show” from The Greatest Showman (Thanks to Domingo for helping out in the skit!).

After the show we gathered all the young filmmakers onstage. So much talent, all in one place!

Let’s check out the movies themselves! One of the audience favorites was this adaptation of Russell Freedman’s 1988 Newbery Medal Winner Lincoln: A Photobiography. It’s done by the Zenz family of Spring Lake, MI, who have done so many awesome 90-Second Newberys in the past. Here they tell the story of Lincoln in the form of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical Hamilton—yes, I give you Abrahamilton:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “The Zenz family has done it again! . . . The various songs from Hamilton are rewritten expertly to be about Lincoln, with inventive rhymes and dead-on rhythm. The quick-cutting edits keep up the energy . . . Each of the six perfomers totally sells their song . . . All the performances were astonishingly energetic, poised, and most of all, FUNNY.”

The Zenzes sent their video on to Lin-Manuel Miranda himself, who sent back a thoughtful handwritten personal note! Oh and by the way Aaron himself drew me a wonderful picture for my birthday that I’ll treasure always, which features characters from all of the 90-Second Newberys their family has made over the years:

Another audience favorite was this movie based on Derrick Barnes’s 2018 Newbery Honor Book Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut, adapted by Play In A Book & South Shore Fine Arts Summer School in Chicago. It made for one of the sweetest, most joyful 90-Second Newberys of the year:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “A pure delight! The kids’ voiceover readings of the poem from the book were enthusiastic and expressive, really getting across the joy of the book . . . The acting was a pleasure to watch, especially when the girls are cooing ‘He’s so fine!’ and when all the kids are wearing shades and looking cool. The cinematography and editing were polished, and the music choice was perfect . . . I hope this group makes even more movies, they’re natural stars!”

The next three movies are from when I taught a weeklong 90-Second Newbery moviemaking summer workshop in Hinsdale, Illinois. This first one is based on Arnold Lobel’s 1973 Newbery Honor Book Frog and Toad Together, made by Porter and Alec and Friends. It retells the “Dragons and Giants” vignette from the book, but with a twist: what if Frog was a tough-as-nails marine, and Toad was a stealthy, butt-kicking ninja? Yes, it’s Frog and Toad Together as an action movie, with an unexpected twist at the end:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “Fantastic premise, stellar acting, glorious use of green-screen special effects, a fun soundtrack, and a tweaked story of Porter’s and Alec’s invention that somehow still encapsulates the spirit of the gentle original story, even as it goes over-the-top in its action-movie characteristics. Great work from the rest of the group as fighters and fans in the final fighting scene, with wonderful acting when Toad is seemingly defeated. This is so much fun to watch!”

The next movie from Hinsdale is of E.B. White’s 1953 Newbery Honor Book Charlotte’s Web, a stop-motion animation done entirely by Kevin, with voice work from the rest of the workshop attendees:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “This movie is a marvel! Kevin’s drawings are expressive, and he animates them with sophistication and flair. The chattering mouths and blinking eyes and moving eyebrows make the characters seem truly alive — I love the way their expressions are constantly changing, especially when they are responding to each other . . . And everyone’s voice acting is fantastic too!”

The last movie to come out our Hinsdale workshop is based on Katherine Applegate’s 2013 Newbery Medal Winner The One and Only Ivan, adapted by Sarah and Megan and Friends:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “It’s the acting that makes this movie shine! Megan goes all-in with her grumpy, sulky portrayal of the mighty silverback gorilla Ivan, Sarah makes for an endearing Ruby the elephant, and Maddie is a properly tragic Stella the elephant, with a fantastically ludicrous death scene! And speaking of that death scene . . . Ivan’s and Ruby’s extended screaming-and-crying freakout reaction to Stella’s death was masterfully funny . . . the joyful, goofy performances make this a pleasure to watch.”

We got a lot of great movies from outside Chicago this year! The next one is from McHenry, IL, and it’s of Lois Lowry’s 1994 Newbery Medal Winner The Giver, adapted by Peter, Nick, Tyler, Andrew, and Joseph of Montini Catholic Middle School:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “What a funny, resourceful, ingenious movie! . . . The acting was goofy and funny and sarcastic, exactly the right tone. The green screen was artfully deployed throughout (especially at the end, when Jonas is ‘riding’ his bike through the snowy woods!). I appreciated the running jokes, like ‘don’t sass me!’ or the repetition of everyone chorusing ‘OR IS IT?’ / ‘OR WILL THEY?’ . . . The script was clever and crisp, with great lines of understated irony . . . witty, polished, fast, and super well done.”

We also featured a movie from Madison, Wisconsin, and the filmmakers were good enough to come! The next movie is of Victoria Jamieson’s 2016 Newbery Honor Book Roller Girl, adapted by Maya and Lela Desai:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “From the very beginning of this movie I knew I was in good hands, with that beautiful title screen that meticulously recreated the cover of the original graphic novel, complete with matching real-life version of Astrid, all the way down to the color of her clothes and the rainbow socks! . . . The Claymation is so fluid and impressive . . . The music choice of ‘Survivor’ was inspired, the performance was committed and enthusiastic and fun to watch, and the whole thing told the story efficiently and with style!”

I love it when participants make movies for the 90-Second Newbery year after year. The next movie is by another frequent contributor, Riley Levine. You can see all of Riley’s other amazing 90-Second Newbery movies from previous years (going all the way back to 2015!) here. As for this year, Riley gives us an adaptation of Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s 1992 Newbery Medal Winner Shiloh—in the style of a reality show:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “This movie truly nails the style of reality shows, with shots of the various contestants explaining their place in the narrative interspersed with on-location shots of the characters interacting (and I like how Judd was simply identified in the chyron as ‘Animal Abuser’). The histrionic over-acting was perfectly pitched, and the cheesily dramatic reality show music expertly tracked the mood of the show . . . Cheeky, ludicrous fun!”

Speaking of Shiloh, we got another movie of that book, this time made by Lucy D. and friends of Waters Elementary in Chicago, in the style of a trailer for a horror movie:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “The spooky music, off-kilter cinematography, and jumpy editing put us in just the right mood for this genre . . . The dog mask was a resourceful touch, and I liked the committed and amusing performances from everyone, expressed through a combination of video clips and still pictures. Great (literal) jump scare at the end!”

We had a good number of movies this year from Chicago’s own Beaubien Elementary! This one is of Thanhha Lai’s 2012 Newbery Honor Book Inside Out and Back Again, and it’s adapted by Benjamin, Albert, Jonathon, and Jerry:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “I loved the flair of this movie, which combines original live-action footage, green screens, and stock video footage and stock photography with a rapid-fire voiceover narration and blink-and-you-miss-it onscreen commentary text to tell the story . . . Sardonic, goofy, and fun to watch!”

The next movie from Beaubien is of Christopher Paul Curtis’s 2000 Newbery Medal Winner Bud, Not Buddy, adapted by Nicki T., Dina G., Jocelyne E., Alexia G., and Christina N.:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “This was a lot of fun! This movie blazed through the plot with goofball speed, and there were a lot of amusing moments along the way, such as the extremely committed fake slap at the beginning, or how Bud points to her grandfather behind his back and whispers ‘he’s my father’ to the audience . . . But my favorite part was the bloopers — especially the deployment of the Katy Perry ‘you have to say you’re fine, but you’re not fine’ meme, and the sunglasses meme.”

The final movie this year from Beaubien is another adaptation of The Giver, this time by Lilah, Grace, Angelica, Annika, Eilee, Rita, and Leigha:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “An excellent movie! It was an effective idea to explain the story in voiceover from various points of view—Jonas, the Giver, and Fiona—while we watch the action of the story play out visually . . . the clear, well-written script got across the most important plot points of the story without bogging down. Great work!”

The Giver is always a popular book to adapt for the 90-Second Newbery. Here’s the third version of the day, by Cedric R. and Ethan M. of Lincoln Hall Middle School—done quite amusingly in an animated style:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “I was blown away by the impressive animation, as well as the humor of the script and the deadpan comic voiceover performances! The background music was perfect for the mood, and I liked the repetition of the explanation of various things: ‘Because you’re the protagonist!’ The creepy way The Giver says ‘Let me touch your forehead so I can give you memories’ was a great detail (there IS something creepy about that Giver, isn’t there?).”

Here’s yet one more adaptation of The Giver, also coming from Lincoln Hall Middle School, adapted by Jonathan L. and Jad D. of Robo Productions. They’ve been making 90-Second Newberys for the past three years (see their movies here), always in Lego stop motion, and they somehow get even better every year:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “The Lego stop-motion of this movie is very impressive, the movements so fluid and smooth! The voiceover performances of all the characters feel convincing and authentic, and there was a good use of well-chosen background music and even the occasional sound effects like applause. I appreciated the careful and varied cinematography—with closeups, two-shots, over-the-shoulder shots, overhead shots, and more—all artfully deployed . . . There was a wonderfully surreal nightmare-moment when our view of the father standing over the ‘released’ baby for a moment becomes the view of some guy with an axe hunched over a dead body . . . Stellar work!”

The next movie we featured from Lincoln Hall Middle School is of Louis Sachar’s 1999 Newbery Medal Winner Holes, adapted by Harry F., Max H., and August B-K.—and it’s done in Minecraft:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “You made great use of the peculiar strengths of Minecraft to tell the story! I was impressed at a lot of your decisions here, like how the camera swoops far above a vast desert (pretty hard to do in real life) and showing the actual digging of holes. The dialogue was punchy and told the story quickly but not too rushed, with room for humor . . . You were even able to wrangle expressiveness from the normally blank-faced Minecraft avatars, particularly the dejected way Zero looked when he said ‘that wasn’t nice of you’ as he stumbled away. Great voiceover performances, and technically impressive!”

The final movie we featured from Lincoln Hall Middle School is of Veera Hiranandani’s 2019 Newbery Honor Book The Night Diary, and it’s adapted by Max, Talia, and Olivia. This one tells the story through song, by rewriting the lyrics to “I Love the Way You Lie” by Rihanna and Eminem:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “I was impressed by both the singing and the rapping, and the lyrics did a good job putting us into the emotional experience of the main character Nisha. I also appreciated the quality of the recording itself . . . it sounded really good! The video images worked well to complement the lyrics . . . This was a great movie!”

We received three other movies from Lincoln Hall Middle School, but there wasn’t enough time in the show (or in this post) to feature them all! But I encourage you to check out Holes by Hanna, Chloe, and Aliyah, as well as this version of The Night Diary by Emma B., Asma P., Maria G., and Lorena S., and this version of The Crossover by Chris and Patrick.

The next movie is of Matthew de la Peña’s 2016 Newbery Medal Winner Last Stop on Market Street, adapted by Laurel H., Frances D., Thuan D., and Finn D. Beware of SOUP SHARKS at the end:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “What a fun and lighthearted adaptation of the book! I loved all the resourceful touches, like how you used a sprinkler to indicate rain, or the wig and shawl used to indicate Nana is a grandma . . . All the performances here were great . . . Fantastic and imaginative!”

The next movie is of Patricia MacLachlan’s 1986 Newbery Medal Winner Sarah, Plain and Tall, adapted by John A., Meg A., Lucie R., Steve R., and Ryan H. of JA Producations in an arty style (and you can see this group’s many past contributions to the film festival here):

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “What a gem of a movie! The cinematography was deft and assured, alternating between intense closeups and intimate two-shots indoors to broad, sweeping wide shots outdoors . . . The performances of the children were expressive and heartfelt . . . I loved the shots of Sarah in front of the sea, and particularly how you brought out a suitcase and even a full old-fashioned writing-desk to the beach . . . This movie tells the story in a comprehensive way with style and sensitivity.”

The next movie is of Lois Lowry’s 1990 Newbery Medal Winner Number the Stars, adapted by Lozano Branch of the Chicago Public Library. This one tells the story of resistance to Nazis with a comic book Marvel vs. DC twist:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “I was intrigued by this inventive twist to make Number the Stars be all about the history of comic books, and particular the Marvel and DC factions coming together to defeat the real-life Dr. Frederic Wertham, who in the 1950s argued against comic books as a valid art form. Instead of Annemarie and Ellen subverting the Nazis, it’s Wonder Woman and Black Widow who join forces to defeat the anti-comics forces . . . The music was well-chosen, tracking and expressing the appropriate moods throughout the story, and I liked the resourceful costumes and the back-projection of the DC and Marvel logos, as well as the use of stock footage . . . Creative and odd!”

For the final movie I want to highlight, it’s something I’ve shown on the blog before: Lloyd Alexander’s 1966 Newbery Honor Book The Black Cauldron, adapted by The Leland Street Players in the style of Dungeons and Dragons:

Okay, full disclosure, those are my kids and their friends, I’m not going to spend time praising my own kids’ work! But I think it’s worth watching! (Even though it’s long. Which was my fault.)

. . . And those were the local entries for the 2020 Chicago 90-Second Newbery Film Festival! Thanks so much to Maria Peterson, Alexa Hamilton, Leland Mosley, and everyone at the Chicago Public Library for helping me to put this on. And the biggest thanks of all to the young filmmakers, and their parents, teachers, librarians, and others who helped them make these movies. I’m already looking forward to seeing what you make next year—and it’s not too early to start making your movies now! You can find lots of help at the 90-Second Newbery website, especially screenwriting, cinematography, and editing help at our Video Resources page.

Oh, and if you like what we’re doing here, and want to see it continue into next year, please donate to the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival. It’s tax-deductible. Our fiscal sponsor is Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization.

See you next year!

The Triumph and Tremendousness of the TACOMA 2020 90-Second Newbery Film Festival!

March 17, 2020

Did you enjoy the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival? Do you want us to keep doing it? Then please help us out with a tax-deductible donation. Our fiscal sponsor is Fractured Atlas, a nonprofit arts service organization.

As we’re all hunkered down in quarantine, let’s take a look back—way back—to those ancient days of about two weeks ago, February 29, 2020, in which it wasn’t weird to gather about 200 people in one place, when we did a screening of the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival at the Rialto Theater in beautiful Tacoma, Washington!

In that same trip I also did a screening at the Children’s Film Festival Seattle and a school screening at Eisenhower Elementary in Vancouver, WA. Those screenings were great, but the Tacoma screening is always the biggie. Tacoma always does a red-carpet paparazzi session in the lobby, with the young filmmakers sashaying glamorously and posing for their adoring fans. It was glorious!

For years Tacoma Public Library has been making the film festival amazing, and it’s all due to the astonishing, resourceful efforts of their teen librarian Sara Sunshine Holloway. Thanks also to Mariesa Bus, John Hargis, and everyone at the Rialto who pulled together to make this happen. Thanks to Bret Stein for doing photography. And thanks to Doug Mackey, who once again co-hosted with me, and was on fire that day. Hilarious stage presence, great singing, wonderful guy. Here’s our opening skit, recorded by Bryan Johnson of the Grant Center for Expressive Arts (thanks, Bryan!):

The first few years of doing the 90-Second Newbery in Tacoma, we did the screening in a meeting room at the library. Then for a couple of years we screened it at Tacoma’s Blue Mouse theater. Now we’ve moved into Tacoma’s biggest venue, the Rialto!

And of course, thanks most of all to the amazing kid filmmakers who made movies for the film festival! At the end of the show, we gave special awards to each one of them, including First Place Champion to Angela P. of Kent, WA (there she is, above!). She won it for her wonderful animation of Gary Paulsen’s 1988 Honor Book Hatchet:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “This is a beautifully animated, technically accomplished movie that tells the complete story of the book swiftly and with style! The loose, casual drawings are perfect for the rapid-fire barrage of images, in which we must digest many scenes very quickly . . . I was impressed at how the pictures and the spoken narration worked together to set up the story quickly and keep it on track as it barrels along!”

Last year, the Kelley Family of Tacoma submitted two great 90-Second Newbery movies. They came back this year with two more winners! This next movie is Fletcher and Otto’s adaptation of the “Dragons and Giants” vignette from Arnold Lobel’s 1973 Newbery Honor Book Frog and Toad Together, a sequel to their movie last year of “Cookies.” You’ll quickly understand why this one walked away with the Best Stunt Work award:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “The performances are wonderful to watch, with charisma and charm to spare . . . it was entertaining to watch Frog and Toad running and sledding through the beautiful snowy countryside, encountering a snake, a steep mountain (with an avalanche of snow!), and a hawk (flapping its terrifying wings). The movie told the story quickly, accurately, and with style!”

The other movie by the Kelley Family is based on Laura Ingalls Wilder’s 1941 Newbery Honor Book The Long Winter, adapted by Nigel and Simone, who perform this survival story in the style of the song “Stayin’ Alive.” It was a shoo-in for Best Song:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “The disco lights and costumes were creative touches, and the dancing and singing made this a delight! The movie made resourceful use of the snowy weather, and the wintertime activities of sledding, standing in an icy river, and snowball-throwing were all good ideas . . . and I liked how the masked dancer devours the whipped cream that falls off the sled.”

We featured one movie of Hatchet above, but actually we got quite a few versions of Hatchet from the Tacoma area this year. This version is by Bryce M., Aidan M., Ethan M., Colton R., and Layia D. of Summit Trail Middle School (Ms. Hohn’s class), but with a twist: the kid stranded in the woods is a ridiculous YouTube gamer who has absolutely zero survival skills. This one definitely deserved the award for Funniest:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “Deranged, hilarious . . . This fool tries to take Minecraft and apply it to reality . . . Our gamer narrator does a great job of speaking in the language of these YouTube stars (‘All right gamers! Smash the subscribe button! See more epic content!’) . . . Of course the best part is when two normal people walk by our narrator and ask him what he’s doing, he says he’s making a surviving-in-the-woods video, and they point out the school is within sight and he’s in no danger at all.”

That’s not the only movie we got from Summit Trail Middle School! Here’s one with a similar premise . . . also based on a survival story (although this time it’s of Jean Craighead George’s 1960 Newbery Honor Book My Side of the Mountain), and it’s adapted by Tayte E., Weston C., Matthew M., and Kaden P. of Ms. Hohn’s class. And once again, the main character is a YouTuber, but less ridiculous. I do like how he keeps his hair precisely styled, even after living in the woods for months. This one earned the award for Best Modernization of the Premise:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “The graphic overlay worked well to make it look like a vlog . . . The movie sprints through the events of the story quickly but accurately, culminating in Sam’s family coming to join him to live with him, to his disappointment (‘Mom says you have to live under a roof until you’re 18.’ ‘Noooooo!’). Technically accomplished, solid craftsmanship, well done!”

The last movie from Summit Trail Middle School that we featured at the screening was of Jason Reynolds’s 2018 Newbery Honor Book Long Way Down, adapted by Torrie C., Kaylee B., Addy H., and Shirin J. of Ms. Hohn’s class. You will understand immediately why it won for Best Art:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “This movie effectively uses elaborately-drawn illustrations and laconic, deadpan narration to quickly sum up the story. The stark black-and-red pictures were impressively detailed and worked together well with the spoken narration to push the story forward.”

Summit Trail Middle School isn’t the only school that submitted lots of movies! As usual, Mr. Johnson’s Fifth Grade class from the Grant School for the Expressive Arts submitted many brilliant, technically accomplished, highly entertaining movies. Each of them was excellent in its own way, such as their adaptation of Gary Paulsen’s 1986 Newbery Honor Book Dogsong, which was awarded Best Costumes:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “Great cinematography and green screen work in this swift retelling of the story! I was particularly impressed by the resourcefulness of the scenes with the sled, especially in the scene where the dogs are pulling it along. The climactic fight with the polar bear was satisfying to watch, and I was amused at how Russel is clearly falling asleep during the elder’s story of the old times.”

The next movie from Mr. Johnson’s class is of Meg Medina’s 2019 Newbery Medal Winner Merci Suárez Changes Gears, and it won for Best Cinematography:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “I loved the emotional reactions of the characters, such as the way Merci’s friends grab each other and gasp in horror as Merci cuts off her rival’s eyebrows (and I thought it was clever how you digitally erased the eyebrows!) The green screen was effectively deployed, as well as the fast forward during the egyptian project part.”

The next movie from Mr. Johnson’s class at the Grant Center is based on Bill Brittain’s 1984 Newbery Honor Book The Wish Giver: Three Tales of Coven Tree, and it won for Best Editing:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “Here’s a fun twist to The Wish Giver: instead of the narrator Stewart Meade encountering the magical Thaddeus Blinn as a weird old man in a carnival tent, the two of them are Logan Paul-esque YouTubers (I love how these segments always end with them approaching the camera and obscuring it with their hands, a true YouTuber power move). The performances were confident and expressive, the music was well chosen throughout, and the combination of green screen environments and real-life locations worked well.”

The next movie from the Grant Center is of Rita Williams-Garcia’s 2011 Newbery Honor Book One Crazy Summer, which won for Most Accelerated Story. Don’t believe me? Check out how the girls both meet their mother, and their mother is arrested, all in the same scene:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “An amusingly accelerated, pretty much accurate summary of the story! The green screen was resourcefully deployed to make the settings come alive, and I liked how this movie made the plane ‘land’ in San Francisco . . . The climactic poetry-reading was handled well, and I liked Cecile’s rapid change of heart . . . Good work!”

The last movie we received from the Grant Center was of Janet Taylor Lisle’s 1990 Newbery Honor Book Afternoon of the Elves, which won for Best Special Effects with its green-screen shrinking of the actors into elf size:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “Great homemade elf village, green screen locations, and well-chosen music to make the story look and sound good . . . My favorite part was that, when Hillary sneaks into Sara-Kate’s house, she doesn’t see Sara-Kate taking care of her sick mother as she doesn in the book, but rather dancing disco with some tiny elves! . . . Bizarre and entertaining!”

The next movie is of Patricia Reilly Giff’s 2003 Newbery Honor Book Pictures of Hollis Woods, adapted by Zac, Thomas, Amelia, Amanda, Aniyah, Olivia, and Evelyne of Rainier Elementary School on Joint Base Lewis-McChord. It did a great job getting almost every important detail of the book right, and so it very much earned the Truest To The Book honor:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “All the characters, especially Hollis, are acted in a grounded way that makes them believable. Resourceful use of props to indicate the various locations, like the art on the wall and canned goods to indicate Josie’s house, or the resourceful cat mask to indicate the cat, the red wagon to indicate the truck, or the woodland mural backdrop to indicate the outdoors. I like how Hollis occasional turns directly to the camera to address the viewer to bring us up to speed on her thoughts and emotions . . . Good narrative craftsmanship, solid cinematography, engaging acting, and brisk editing all make this movie work!”

I love to see real-life actors, but puppetry can be just as interesting to watch too, and sometimes even more so! That’s the case with this next movie, based on Scott O’Dell’s 1961 Newbery Medal Winner Island of the Blue Dolphins, adapted by Evelyn & Joanna. It handily won Best Puppetry:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “It was fun to watch this well-drawn, inventive puppet show. The voiceover narration was expressive and told the abbreviated story of the book very well as the paper cut-out puppets represented the action, especially during the battle scene, the scene with the burning of the village, and the capture of Rontu.”

Every year we also get a ton of great movies from Seabury School in Tacoma. I wish I could feature them all, but check out this next movie based on Cece Bell’s 2015 Newbery Honor Book El Deafo, adapted by Mallorie K. She nailed this performance, and that’s why this movie won Best Acting:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “A refreshingly clear, simple and stylish retelling of the story. The voiceover tells the story with straightforward narration, efficiently guiding the viewer through the major events of the story while we see those events played out with silent-movie acting. The cinematography and editing were very good . . . The cape was a great touch, and I liked the ambitious scenes like when the whole class is throwing a party while the teacher is gone.”

Let’s watch yet another movie from Seabury School, this one by Elena H. and friends! It’s another adaptation of Hatchet, but different: instead of crash-landing in the Canadian wilderness, Brian crash-lands on another planet! That’s why this movie earned the honor of Craziest Change Of Premise:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “Ambitious and creative twist to give Hatchet a science-fiction alteration . . . I loved the elaborate tinfoil costume for the robotic pilot and the deadpan way the robot is played. There were many fun resourceful details throughout, like the use of the sound effect of a 90s modem connecting, or the red paper used to make a backdrop for the red planet . . . Good job!”

There’s one more movie from Tacoma I’d like to feature that’s last, but definitely not least! It’s Joseph Ferrier’s adaptation of Esther Forbes’s 1944 Newbery Medal Winner Johnny Tremain, in which he quotes the rousing speech at the end, and it deserved the honor of Best Dramatic Monologue:

As the judges said on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “An entertaining and thoughtful one-man show that explores the themes of the book! I was impressed by the voiceover performance, and I appreciated the resourcefulness of how this movie was made: the green screen background (especially during the Tea Party scene), the period costume and gun, the sound effects, and even the detail of the bloody hand from when Johnny Tremain injures himself. The script was tight and well-written and I like how the images synch up with what is being said. Capable cinematography, too!”

. . . And that’s it for the local entries for the 2020 Tacoma 90-Second Newbery Film Festival! Thanks again to Sara Holloway and everyone at the Tacoma Public Library and Rialto Theater for helping me to put this on. And the biggest thanks of all to the young filmmakers, and the adults who helped them make these movies. I can’t wait to see what you make next year.

A lot of us are home from school for now because of the coronavirus situation, and maybe at loose ends for what to do, so why not use this spare time (if you’re lucky enough to that time, I know a lot of us are scrambling) to start making your movies now? You can find help at the 90-Second Newbery website, including screenwriting, cinematography, and editing help at our Video Resources page.

By the way, a quick request. If you like the 90-Second Newbery, and want to see it continue into next year, please donate to the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival. It’s tax-deductible. Our fiscal sponsor is Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization.

See you next year!

Behold the Brilliant, Bombastic BROOKLYN 2020 90-Second Newbery Film Festival!

March 15, 2020

Did you enjoy the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival? Do you want us to keep doing it? Then please help us out with a tax-deductible donation. Our fiscal sponsor is Fractured Atlas, a nonprofit arts service organization.

I’ve got to be honest—in light of the current social-distancing recommendations, I’m shy about celebrating our recent screenings of the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival, which after all brought crowds together in the past few weeks. In any case, because of coronavirus, we have of course canceled/postponed our March and April shows in Boston, Salt Lake City, Ogden UT, Orem UT, and Boulder CO. (As for the Minneapolis show, we’re going to live-stream it. Details to come.)

But let’s look back with fondness on the screenings we did pull off! Back on February 22, what seems like a lifetime ago, we did the ninth annual 90-Second Newbery Film Festival at the Brooklyn Public Library, hosted by me and Newbery Honor winner Rita Williams-Garcia (One Crazy Summer). Thanks so much for being a marvelous and funny co-host, Rita. Did you know she used to be Broadway dancer? Check out the video above—you can see she’s still got the moves. It’s our opening skit in which I’ve become a jaded old grump who has lost the Newbery spirit, and Rita helps me get it back in an accelerated parody of “A Christmas Carol.” (Thanks to Mohana and Glynnton for appearing in the skit too, you were hilarious!)

Thanks also to Brandon Graham and everyone at the Brooklyn Public Library who helped us pull this off. And of course thanks to the filmmakers, and the parents and teachers and librarians who helped them! The young filmmakers all posed onstage with Rita and me at the end of the show:

Every screening features a mix of locally-made movies and the best of the movies from across the country. Let’s check out the New York-made movies, and in particular a movie I’ve also shown across the country—of Shel Silverstein’s classic picture book The Giving Tree, adapted by Ella and Friends—

Wait a second, you say. The Giving Tree didn’t win a Newbery! And that’s true. But I’m sorry, this movie is too good to disqualify, because it really gives you a sense of how cruel that boy is, and how much the tree is suffering:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “The performances were hilarious, from the jerky little boy to the kind, put-upon, and finally furious tree. The tree costume demonstrated some resourceful craftsmanship, complete even with apples to pick . . . and the movie really starts getting funny when the boy does begin picking her apples, making her shriek ‘OW! Why does it hurt so much?!’ I enjoyed how the movie subtly snarks the logic of the plot: he could have cut down ANY tree, why HER in particular?”

But that’s not the only movie made by Ella and Friends! And this next one did win a Newbery Honor, in 1973—Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad Together. It asks the question, what if Frog were a scrunchie-wearing, “sksksksk”-whispering VSCO girl? And what if Toad were a mopey, self-pitying, all-black wearing goth?

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “Brilliant! From the very first lines (“Hey Toad, how are you?” “Miserable”) I knew this was going to be great . . . The performances were hilarious and pitched just right. I loved the details like how Frog and Toad had to look up ‘willpower’ of Frog’s phone, or how Frog in true VSCO fashion tied up the box of cookies with a scrunchie . . . This does exactly what 90-Second Newberys should do: take a well-known story and put a creative twist on it. Well-shot and great editing too.”

Every year we get a bunch of great movies from Mr. Adams’s class from the Foote School in New Haven, CT. Like this next movie, based on Neil Gaiman’s 2009 Newbery Medal Winner The Graveyard Book, adapted by Elle, Lia, and Lydia:

As the judges said on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “This movie covered an impressive amount of the plot in a very short amount of time! And there were many nice stylish touches too: good use of the doll prop for baby Bod, and the scary dark cloak costume for Silas the vampire. I also thought it was resourceful how the rocks in the field were used to represent gravestones in the scene where Scarlett meets Mr. Frost, and how the scenes in the Sleer’s lair are shot with appropriate dimness. The part where Mr. Frost draws a knife on Bod was a fun action scene too!”

How about doing your 90-Second Newbery in the style of a movie trailer? That’s what this next movie by Louis, Henry, and Amber does, based on Katherine Applegate’s 2013 Newbery Medal Winner The One and Only Ivan:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “It was resourceful to use stuffed animals to portray Ruby and Bob, and animal costumes for the other animals Ivan and Stella (and a wig for Julia!). The peppy music and intertitles explaining to plot were just enough to keep the audience’s understanding on track. Fun performances, especially Julia and the stern look on Mack’s face as he wags his finger at the camera . . . A brief and fun sprint through the story!”

Here’s another movie based on The One and Only Ivan, adapted by Conall and Dylan of Lloyd Harbor School of Huntington, NY. Check out the amazing gorilla costume:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “The performances were engaging and fun to watch, especially the cruel guy who runs the mall zoo and the way he and his minions push the animals around. The movie whips through all the major plot points but never feels rushed, with time for lots of quiet moments of the animals telling each other stories.”

We actually featured a lot movies from the Lloyd Harbor School! The next movie is of Victoria Jamieson’s 2016 Newbery Honor Book Roller Girl, adapted by Allison, Jenny, and Zoe:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “An accurate and entertaining adaptation of the book, true to its spirit! I liked the way that Astrid often addresses the viewer directly to narrate the story and keep everything clear and on track . . . The performances were enthusiastic and it looked like everyone was having a good time making this.”

The next movie from Lloyd Harbor School we featuerd was of Louis Sachar’s 1999 Newbery Medal Winner Holes, adapted by Max and Will—ingeniously, in Minecraft:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “The movie very effectively uses Minecraft to pull off shots and situations that would have been difficult is real life, like the part with the police car, or the scene in the courtroom, or how it uses an extreme wide shot to show how Stanley is lost in the desert wilderness, and then gradually zooms in on him when he digs his hole and finds his treasure . . . I like how, at the end, after he finds his treasure, Stanley hops into a car (which looks like a Tesla cybertruck?) and zooms away to enjoy his riches. Brutally abbreviated, fun to watch!”

Here’s another version of Holes from Lloyd Harbor School, adapted by Hannah, Kiersten, Molly, and Siena:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “A tight script, fun energy, and committed acting . . . I liked how the movie indicated a cave by having the characters disappear behind the gap in the green-screen curtains! The black-and-white flashback to 1878 was handled well, and I loved the infectious goofy spirit that fills this movie, culminating in the wonderful ‘The Curse Is Broken’ song and dance at the end.”

I love it when homeschoolers get in on the act. Especially when the movie is itself about homeschoolers! The next movie is of Stephanie S. Tolan’s 2003 Newbery Honor Book Surviving the Applewhites, adapted by Brooklyn Apple Academy in collaboration with Cottonwood ALC. Stick around for the rousing ‘Sound of Music’ singalong at the end, complete with blorping tuba:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “It was a clever and resourceful idea to transpose the rural ‘Creative Academy; of the book to the urban setting of Brooklyn . . . I appreciated how this movie took the time to get the details right, like Jake’s punk haircut . . . The arson scenes were creatively handled, burning a cardboard building gets the idea across quite well! . . . Entertaining, never a dull moment!”

Jillian and Joseph Parrino have been making marvelous 90-Second Newbery movies ever since 2014 (you can check them all out here). I always love their creative twists on the stories, like this next one, their adaptation of Richard Peck’s 1999 Newbery Honor Book A Long Way from Chicago:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “This was a funny, clever movie that sneakily also managed to summarize a lot of the book without breaking a sweat! The format of having a the grandchildren directly address the viewer to describe the Grandma Dowdel, complete with pictures and video, was inspired. The brisk peppy music, crisp editing, and tight script kept everything moving quickly . . . This is what a 90-Second Newbery should be: a simple idea, executed with craft and humor, that gets across the story and is funny and interesting and comprehensible even if you haven’t read the book.”

The final local movie we featured is another one, like The Giving Tree, that didn’t actually win a Newbery—although it was written by a Newbery Honor winning author, Gennifer Choldenko. It’s the picture book Dad and the Dinosaur, adapted by Glynnton Buckley (who was in the opening skit with his sister Mohana, herself a 90-Second Newbery moviemaker):

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “I liked how this movie echoed some parts of the picture book exactly: for example, opening with the main character Nick’s foot on a soccer ball. We jump right into the story, quickly describing Nick’s fears at the beginning (while showing some of those things he feared), and demonstrating his father’s lack of fear by having the man not flinch at all even when a snake is slithering on him! There was good visual storytelling when showing how brave Nick is when he has the dinosaur (like riding a bike through a puddle or scaling a climbing wall). The movie told the story efficiently and with style.”

. . . And those were the local entries for the 2020 Brooklyn 90-Second Newbery Film Festival! Thanks so much to Brandon Graham and everyone at the Brooklyn Public Library for helping me to put this on. And the biggest thanks of all to the young filmmakers, and their parents, teachers, librarians, and others who helped them make these movies. I’m already looking forward to seeing what you make next year—and it’s not too early to start making your movies now! You can find lots of help at the 90-Second Newbery website, especially screenwriting, cinematography, and editing help at our Video Resources page.

Oh, and if you like what we’re doing here, and want to see it continue into next year, please donate to the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival. It’s tax-deductible. Our fiscal sponsor is Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization.

See you next year!

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