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:
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!