March 3, 2015
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We had two more fantastic 90-Second Newbery Film Festival screenings in Tacoma and in the Portland area on February 21-22, 2015! Thanks so much to Sara Sunshine Holloway for arranging the screening at the Tacoma Public Library—complete with red-carpet walk, popcorn, paparazzi, and specially-made Oscar-like prize statuettes for participants!—and Violeta Garza and Coi Vu for organizing the screening at the Troutdale branch of the Multnomah County Public Library near Portland.
And extra special huge thanks for my co-hosts, Doug Mackey in Tacoma and Jacob von Borg in Portland! Doug Mackey was my co-host last year in Tacoma, and the young Jacob von Borg was my co-host in Portland—you may remember Jacob from the many great 90-Second Newbery movies he’s made over the past few years, as well as the cornucopia of Order of Odd-Fish fan art he and his sisters have created as well. Add to that list: excellent co-host! I need to hire this kid full-time!
I thought I’d take the opportunity in this post to feature some of the movies I received from Tacoma and Portland this year.
Almost every year we’ve received a fantastic Claymation 90-Second Newbery from Jennings Mergenthal of Tacoma. First he sent us a breakneck-paced Claymation version of The Story of Mankind, the second year he sent us a hilarious and educational Claymation version of An American Plague, and this year here’s a super-impressive Claymation version of Steve Sheinkin’s 2013 Newbery Honor Book Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon. Take it away, Jennings:
Every year Jennings finds a way to top himself: I’m amazed at how much facial emotion and human expression he can wring out just a few bits of clay. The script is hilarious and impeccably tells the story, efficiently zooming through the book and still giving us a good idea what it’s all about. And so many hilarious little grace notes—”It’s just Einstein’s house, how hard can it be to find?”, the newspaper headline “NAZIS INVADE POLAND—we should do something”, Fermi’s line when “Stand back or something” followed by “should we be wearing some kind of protection?” and “We’ll be fine.” My personal favorite moment might be Stalin picking up the phone and saying “Hurry up with my bomb,” followed by Truman tearing his newspaper in half. And perfectly-chosen Tom Lehrer song for the end!
Another great regular contributor from Tacoma is a young man named Parker, who in the past provided us this dizzying, hallucinatory, hilarious version of William Bowen’s 1922 Honor Book The Old Tobacco Shop: A True Account of What Befell a Little Boy in Search of Adventure. Do yourself a favor and go watch it, and then come back and check out his follow-up, also of an older book: Dhan Gopal Mukerji’s 1928 Medal Winner Gay Neck, the Story of a Pigeon. It’s the story of an Indian pigeon, so Parker had the great idea to adapt it . . . in the style of a Bollywood musical:
Just as with The Olde Tobacco Shop, Parker has done some resourceful and ingenious green screen work. The costumes were ace, too, from the saris and feathers to the WWI army uniforms—I love the attention to detail (extra points for that cool nest). I had to laugh at the feathers fluttering down indicating his parents’ untimely fates, and the “not these llamas!” line was cute. Great flying and war scenes, and the Bollywood song and dance at the end was icing on the cake.
Next up: Jean Craighead George’s 1973 Newbery Medal winner Julie of the Wolves. Tacoma wolves were probably too busy to participate, so filmmaker Rosemary Sissel used the next best thing . . . Ladies and gentlemen, we give you Julie of the Cows:
I love it when these films have a unique take on the material, and Julie’s is so creative and resourceful—I guess it’s safe to say that cows are easier to wrangle than wolves for filmmaking. The shots are well composed, the voiceover is effective and pushes the story forward with admirable speed. I chuckled at the part where Julie sighed “I’m so hungry I could eat anything,” followed by her chasing a frightened chicken. The pan left reveal of the cow was funny too, as well as “My cow became a hamburger!” and Julie’s reaction when she finds her father eating beef. Smart take on the story!
Now as it turns out, Tacoma, Washington has a special place in Newbery history, for Tacoma is the setting of Katherine Applegate’s 2013 Newbery Medal winner The One and Only Ivan. The book is based on the true story of a silverback gorilla who spent 27 years in a shopping mall zoo in Tacoma and finally made his way to the Atlanta Zoo. The Tacoma Public Library Storylab (Jaek Andersen, Duncan Killion, Sebastian Killion, Zavier Killion, Shawn Newbauer, Jordan, and Trey Brown) decided to tell the story with a twist—using Minecraft! (Last year Tacoma Storylab gave the same Minecraft treatment to Wanda Gag’s 1929 Honor Book Millions of Cats):
Really good job representing the various animals, and the voiceover narration was rock-solid. The comic timing was on-point too: I especially liked the running joke of Ivan grousing, “It’s not a cage, it’s a domain” and the delivery of the line “I am a dog of uncertain heritage.” It was impressive when we got to zoom out of the mall and see outside, and I loved the exhilarating swoop when the camera is whirling around while they’re arguing.
Next up, Jack Gantos’ 2012 Newbery Medal Winner Dead End in Norvelt, as adapted by Sam Ledford:
I like how quickly and efficiently Sam rips through all the relevant plot points of the story. Nice musical flourishes, and I was amused by the Charlie-Brown wah-wah-wah on the phone. (And I loved the ominous glimpse of the murderer under the table . . . )
And finally from Tacoma, Coco, Simone, and Dori adapted Elizabeth George Speare’s 1959 Medal Winner The Witch of Blackbird Pond . . . all using paper cut-out dolls:
An ingenious idea to do it with those beautiful paper cut-outs. The voice-over work expressed the story very well, and I liked how neatly the ending wrapped up with the beginning. Great work!
And for the penultimate video in this long, long post, let’s watch the Troutdale library’s Teen Council’s version of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler:
Smart move to use Frankweiler’s voiceover narration to push the story along (great accent too!). Resourceful use of sped-up footage in the library to give that feeling of frantic searching. Good variation of shots, from the zoom-in on the sign of “Metropolitan Museum of Art,” to the crowd milling around the Michaelangelo statue, to the tight shot in the stacks while searching. These Teen Council blew through the story with admirable efficiency, nailing all the relevant plot points like pros. Another great movie!
Thanks so much for all the movies and for coming to the screenings, Tacoma and Portland area! See you next year. (And remember, it’s never too early to start working on next year’s movie . . . all the rules and details can be found here.)
We’ll close it out with the closing montage for Tacoma’s screening: