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The Order of Oddfish

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90-Second Newbery, New Zealand Edition: A Single Shard (2002) and A Bridge to Terabithia (1978)

September 16, 2011

CHICAGOANS: I’m one of the “celebrity judges” at the Book Cellar’s Adult Spelling Bee tonight. Other guest judges: The Encyclopedia Show’s Robbie Q. Telfer, Kelsie Huff of The Kates, and Chicago Tribune Literary Editor Elizabeth Taylor. 7 pm.

OK, America, you’re on notice.

The 90-Second Newbery Film Festival has been an international film festival ever since we got those great Graveyard Book, When You Reach Me, and Savvy films from Toronto. BUT NOW THE FESTIVAL IS INTERCONTINENTAL.

Today, I bring you two extremely well-made 90-second Newbery films from NEW ZEALAND. From Mt. Eden Normal Primary School, in Auckland, to be precise. All made using a “Sony standard 8 video camera and an elderly iMac,” according to their director, Bruce Sandford. Check out the first video above, of 2002 Newbery Medal winner A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park!

The story is set in 12th century Korea, and they really make it work as a historical drama: traditional costumes, Hangul writing, and props, with good acting (even credible crying!) and crisp, fast storytelling. I loved the irascible master potter Min and the heroic boy Tree-ear (here played by a girl). Even the scene with the bandits was well-done, with jagged, disoriented camera work. The Kiwi accents make it a refreshing treat, too . . . Sometimes, when I hear how they speak English in other countries, I can’t help but feel that we Americans, and Chicagoans in particular, sound like geese.

But Mt. Eden Normal Primary School is just getting started. Here is their deft, sensitive A Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson:

These New Zealand submissions have raised the bar for this film festival! This is just satisfying, solid filmmaking. And the unfussy magic realism of the angelic “Terabithians” in the trees at the end was a masterstroke. I really enjoyed both of these films.

As it happens, when I was in high school, I had a pen pal from New Zealand whose last name was Sandford, just like the director of these movies. I know it’s a long shot, but I wonder if he’s related to her . . . ? I asked Bruce in an email but I haven’t heard back yet. What a strange coincidence it would be if he somehow knew her! I haven’t communicated with her since, like, 1989.