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90-Second Newbery 2017: Thanks, Bay Area!

May 5, 2017

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On February 17 and 18, the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival had its SIXTH ANNUAL screenings in San Francisco and Oakland. I hosted them with fellow Chicago author Keir Graff (The Matchstick Castle) and San Francisco’s own Marcus Ewert (Mummy Cat).

Keir gamely co-hosted many screenings with me in 2017. Marcus has co-hosted the Bay Area screenings with me the last few years. They both rip up the stage every time. The beast of Chicago and the jewel of San Francisco!

In the picture below, Marcus, Keir, and I goof off during the opening skit, assisted by our audience volunteer (whose name, I’m afraid to say, I’ve misplaced—but she did a great job!). It’s a scene in which we discover a machine that can create Newbery-winning books out of thin air, but at a grisly price:

Unfortunately the videos of the opening skit in the Bay Area didn’t turn out. But if you want to get the drift of what we were doing, the video of the opening skit in Minneapolis represents it well!

Thanks to Carla Kozak, Christy Estrovitz, Cristina Mitra, and Meghan Monahan of the San Francisco Public Library for bringing us out for yet another year. And thanks to Erica Siskind and Nina Lindsay of the Oakland Public Library for bringing us to the Rockridge branch of the Oakland Public Library too. Special thanks to Summer Dawn Laurie and Katherine Megna-Weber of Books Inc. for doing the bookselling at both events. San Francisco is so welcoming and full of positive attitude. I love doing the film festival here!

This year we had a record number of San Francisco entries. Let’s check them out!

You may remember Felix and Taytum from last year. They did a slick, genre-bending adaptation of Jean Craighead George’s 1960 Honor Book My Side of the Mountain—with the story’s setting ingeniously shifted to outer space, so that it became My Side of the Wormhole.

Felix and Taytum’s submission this year uses Kate DiCamillo’s (non-Newbery-winning) The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane as a kind of framing device to ambitiously shuttle between three different Newbery honorees: Sterling North’s 1964 Honor Book Rascal: A Memoir of a Better Era, Jack Gantos’ 2012 Medal Winner Dead End in Norvelt, and in neat bit of twisty recursion, their old adaptation of My Side of the Mountain:

As the judges on the 90-Second Newbery blog said, (check out full review here), “Stylish and intriguing . . . pushing the boundaries of what can be done with a 90-Second Newbery . . . beautifully shot and beautifully edited . . . The music choice was propulsive and inspired . . . The rewinding reference to last year’s entry of My Side of the Mountain was totally ingenious . . . An adventurous, experimental, exhilarating entry!”

On his own, Felix also adapted Arnold Lobel’s 1973 Honor Book Frog and Toad Together, with a hilarious twist: Toad isn’t a gentle swamp creature, but rather a stylish hit man in the 1990s Tarantino mold:

On the 90-Second Newbery blog, the judges said (in part), “A brilliant twist . . . Toad isn’t a bumbling, sweetly foolish amphibian who is friends with a frog, but rather a cold-hearted urban murderer-for-hire who is apparently friends with nobody! And instead of Toad crossing off from his list innocent items like ‘eat breakfast’ or ‘take walk,’ it’s a list of plants he must shoot! It was hilarious how the low stakes of targets (a flower, bush, and tree) ironically undercut the intense action-movie style of the movie.”

What other Bay Area entries were shown? How about Louis Sachar’s 1999 Medal Winner Holes, here adapted by Armando, Alexi, Chloe, Jazmin, Arianna, Reina, Raymond, and Jaime of Salesian College Preparatory in Richmond, CA:

The judges on the 90-Second Newbery blog said (read whole review here), “I like how this movie included the material about the stuff that happened in the past that caused the curse to fall on Stanley Yelnats—too many 90-Second Newbery videos skip that important backstory! The green screen was resourcefully deployed and the background music pulled the whole video together and made it feel of one piece. There were many great moments, like the whirling transformation of Katherine Barlow into Kissin’ Kate, and the exaggerated double-take when Stanley finds out Zero’s name is short for Zeroni, and when the ‘lizard’ bites Kissin’ Kate.”

Here is Kate DiCamillo’s 2004 Medal Winner Tale of Desperaux as adapted by Aarav P., Astrid M., Steven L., and Vanessa B. of Commodore Sloat Elementary:

The judges on the 90-Second Newbery praised the movie (full review here), saying, “I loved how everyone raps their lines in verse . . . The way that Roscuro sings ‘Soup and the baaaaanquet haaallll’ was particularly fun. All of the performers were charismatic and committed and fun to watch, and many of the verses were ingenious!”

Here’s another Kate DiCamillo adaptation! It’s her 2014 Medal Winner Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures, as done by Omara Rosenfeld, Karina Anders, and Lilah Anders:

The judges on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here) claimed it was “ingenious to have ‘Ulysses’ be not a squirrel, but an astronaut! (Or a ‘squirrel-astronaut.’) The performances of all the characters were so fun—I especially liked it when Tootie said, ‘I just sucked up a space squirrel!’ . . . The slow-motion credits sequence of whipping hair around over ‘Space Oddity’ was a perfect way to end it.”

I’m always up for some good stop-motion. Atom Glover does not disappoint with his adaptation of Ellen Raskin’s 1979 Medal Winner The Westing Game:

The judges on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here) called this a “fantastic movie, very stylish and impressive to watch! I like how the movie deploys so many tools to get the story across: through live action, voice over, subtitles, and of course elaborate stop-motion Legos . . . I love how sprawling and elaborate the car crash scene is! The movie took an unwieldy, complex mystery and boiled it down to its essence while staying true to its spirit.”

Matt de la Pena’s 2016 Medal Winner Last Stop on Market Street is actually set in San Francisco, so of course we got an adaptation of it from San Francisco! It’s by D’Arion Curry-Matthews at TheMIX@SFPL:

The judges on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here) called this “stylish, with beautiful cinematography! Great establishing shots around San Francisco at the beginning, and evocative music choice. I appreciated the unforced, natural performances from the actors, and the movie is leisurely in a good way . . . A true pro entry.”

Every year Allison Halla of St. Andrews Episcopal in Saratoga has her students make movies for the film festival. This year St. Andrews really came through, with a record thirteen videos! It was hard to make a choice about which movies to screen from this excellent haul. Let’s check out the three that we showed at the Bay Area screenings, but you can see all of the St. Andrews videos here.

First up, how about Bomb: The Race to Build – and Steal – the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Harry and Som:

The judges said (full review here), “Good use of stock footage, stock photos, background music and sound effects to enhance the movie. I appreciate that you took the time to get the right props for costumes (the headsets for the pilots, the sunglasses, etc.) I like the way the movie meticulously builds its story, step by step, giving this momentous historical event the sober treatment it deserves. ”

Have you ever seen the viral video of the bottle flipping trick? Here’s another, rather stranger version of Bomb this time by Ben, Ethan, Ian, and Anthony that takes its inspiration from that video:

As the judges said on the 90-Second Newbery blog said, “The twist behind this movie is one of the most bizarre I’ve ever seen for a 90-Second Newbery—replacing the idea of inventing the atomic bomb with inventing the water-bottle flipping trick . . . I especially loved the scene that was like a Rube Goldberg machine, the chain reaction of one thing smacking into the next (even with a Newton’s cradle!) leading to the bottle plopping on just the right spot . . . Creative and resourceful.”

There’s just one more movie I’d like to feature today, and it’s an adaptation of Kwame Alexander’s 2015 Medal Winner The Crossover by Sina, Tyler, Tristan, and Quinn of St. Andrews Episcopal:

As the judges on the 90-Second Newbery blog said (in part), “There was really good acting throughout this, especially by the two brothers . . . a chemistry that feels like family. I like the way the music comes in when JB makes his move on Sweet Tea, especially the Katy Perry bit . . . I really love the doctor who keeps changing his mind on the diagnosis: ‘He’s gonna die! He’s alive! He’s dead!’ . . . Great work!”

And that’s it for the Bay Area screenings for this year! Thanks for making it happen, I can’t wait for next year! (Remember: the deadline for entries is January 12, 2018!)

Here’s the closing montage of all the movies that were shown at the San Francisco screening:

And here’s the closing montage at the Oakland screening:

The 90-Second Newbery Film Festival relies on your support to survive. Want us to keep doing this? Make a tax-deductible donation here.