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The Order of Oddfish

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90-Second Newbery Vets Return: NIMH, Terabithia and The Dark Star of Itza

September 25, 2012

The 90-Second Newbery Film Festival is now in its second year. It’s fun to see how returning filmmakers have developed from last year. Today let’s highlight three recently-received 90-Second Newbery films made by veterans from last year’s film festival!

Above, check out this year’s wonderfully elaborate and entertaining musical version of Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Elephant and Worm, the same Chicago theater group that brought you last year’s brilliant 90-Second Newbery musical adaptation of The Twenty-One Balloons. Ahhh! The rat rap, the mad scientists, the catchy music, breaking of the fourth wall, and resourceful use of green-screen, the wonderful cat-chase . . . my expectations for Elephant and Worm were high, and they definitely delivered. Great job, everyone involved (and particularly brilliant acting by “Mrs. Frisby” and “Nicodemus”)!

Hold on, your say. What is the 90-Second Newbery . . . ? It’s a film festival I started last year in which filmmakers of any age make movies that tell the entire story of a Newbery award-winning book in 90 seconds or less. The film festival has star-studded annual screenings in New York City, Chicago, Portland, St. Louis area, Tacoma, and more! Complete details of the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival here. This year, the deadline for movie submissions is November 10.

Last year the Bainbridge Island Public Library made a wonderful Charlotte’s Web adaptation. This year they did A Bridge to Terabithia:

Another winner, Bainbridge! Whenever I get a Terabithia, I always look forward to the death scene and its aftermath, since they are (by necessity) hilariously abrupt. “I’m home!” “Your girlfriend’s dead.” “NOOOOOO!” Another line I liked: “Hello Jess, this is the music teacher you secretly love.” Ha!

Our final returning filmmaker featured today has taken a turn for the avant-garde. I first met the multi-talented Max Pitchkites when he did these fantastic cut-paper illustrations for all the chapters of my novel The Order of Odd-Fish. Max is not only a visual artist, but a filmmaker. For the first 90-Second Newbery Film Festival he made this a scathing version of Onion John and it remains one of my favorites.

This time out, Max went in an artier direction. The book he chose was The Dark Star of Itza: The Story of a Pagan Princess, which won a Newbery Honor in 1931. This is one of the most obscure Newbery winners: it’s so rare that used copies sell for hundreds of dollars, and it’s even unavailable at most libraries—even in the mighty Chicago Public Library system, not a single copy exists. What a strange and fascinating choice! Did Max get his hands on a copy of this mysterious book? I certainly have never read it, and so therefore I don’t know how closely Max’s video hews to the plot. I do know that Max’s film packs a unsettlingly weird punch:

What the what the what? I have a feeling this went way off-text. But satisfyingly strange and mystifying. Particularly good sound design. Dare I say, this experimental piece reminds me of early Lynch? (And how’d you like those last few seconds? PURE TERROR!)