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The 90-Second Newbery screenings in Salt Lake City and Ogden, Utah were a blast!

February 19, 2019

Please donate to the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival! It’s tax-deductible. Our fiscal sponsor is Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization.

Last year (2018) I was blown away by the warm welcome we got when we introduced the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival to Salt Lake City and Ogden, Utah. I was delighted to return to Utah this year too, to honor some great local kid-made movies!

Last Friday and Saturday I was joined at the 2019 Utah screenings by longtime co-host and author Keir Graff (The Phantom Tower, The Matchstick Castle). Just like last year, even a big snowstorm didn’t stop lots of folks from attending the shows!

Below, check out the video of Keir and I doing the opening skit and song-and-dance at the Treehouse Museum in Ogden. The premise? The 90-Second Newbery has offended the honor of the HIGH SUPREME NEWBERY COUNCIL, composed of Newbery all-stars Kate Dicamillo, Jacqueline Woodson, E.B. White, and . . . Meindert Dejong? Wait, you don’t know who Meindert Dejong is? The man who has won more Newberys than anyone? Then this skit is for you, especially if you like goofy floating heads, swordplay, and Les Miserables:

Thanks to Natalie for co-starring with us! I like this recording because, since the Treehouse Museum’s theater is a more intimate venue, we were able to get better audio than at most other shows. Indeed, the Treehouse Museum is an amazing place! It’s especially great for making 90-Second Newbery movies, because of all the kid-friendly exhibits and environments they have (a medieval castle, a farm, a diner, a fire station, a Presidential Oval Office, rooms from Japan, Germany, Great Britain, Mexico, Kenya . . . and so much more!) AND they have tons of play costumes there too.

So Wes Whitby and Hannah Callaway of the Treehouse Museum rounded up OVER A HUNDRED CHILDREN and made this great adaptation of Lloyd Alexander’s 1966 Honor Book The Black Cauldron. It was shot in the style of a silent movie, and it retells this medieval fantasy in the style of an Old West adventure! Prince Gwydion becomes Sherriff Gwydion, the evil Huntsmen of Annuvin become a gang of low-down bandits, and the Black Cauldron itself is transformed into a legendary black train, the “fastest in the west”!

As the reviewers on the 90-Second Newbery said, “This is fantastic! . . . The sped-up footage, frenetic piano music, and old-timey-looking film filter make this really seem like a silent movies from bygone days . . . This movie worked because of the expressive, over-the-top silent-film acting of all the various characters.” You can read the full review here.

The next movie, also from Ogden, is one of the most distinctive and impressive 90-Second Newbery movies I’ve seen. It’s by Tanner Goethals, and it’s an adaptation of Sid Fleischman’s 1987 Medal Winner The Whipping Boy, done entirely in computer animation. But no ordinary animation! This was made using Microsoft 3D Movie Maker (here’s a strangely creepy TV commercial for it), which is software from waaaaaaaay back in, like, the Clinton administration. For those of you scoring along at home, that means this 1980s book has been redone with 1990s graphics for a film festival in the 2000s. I LOVE THIS. THIS IS WHAT THE 90-SECOND NEWBERY IS ABOUT, PEOPLE!

As the judges said, “This movie was amazing! I’ve never had this animation style used in a 90-Second Newbery before, and I loved it . . . elaborately animated, impressively detailed, and the 90s-obsolete style was fresh and compelling! The script was witty and tight and had an appropriately sarcastic tone (‘And they will never do bad stuff again’), zipping through the story at breakneck speed . . . My favorite part was when the giant rats devour Cutwater and Hold-Your-Nose, resulting in an impressive pool of blood!” Read the full review here.

After Ogden, it was off to our next screening at the Salt Lake City Public Library. Here’s a picture of Keir and me with some of the filmmakers after the show—including David (in the tie), who helped out with the opening skit at the Salt Lake City show!

We showed a lot of great 90-Second Newberys in Salt Lake City too. For instance, C.S. Lewis Academy in Santaquin returned for a second year to the 90-Second Newbery with this marvelous movie of Gail Carson Levine’s 1998 Honor Book Ella Enchanted:

As the judges said, “The performances were charismatic and engaging, and it looked like everyone was having a really good time throughout. I appreciated the resourceful use of medieval-ish costumes (especially those fairy wings!) and props like masks, swords, a crown, the shoes, the baby doll and even a big cardboard box for a coffin! That was a fun battle scene with the boys riding in on horses with swords. And I liked how you made a ‘carriage’ out of two boys on those horses galloping in front of Ella and the Prince.” Read the full review here.

I had a great talk with the folks from the C.S. Lewis Academy after the show, and they showed me pictures from the red-carpet premiere they threw at their school for the movie. I’m looking forward to more movies from C.S. Lewis Academy, and other Utah charter schools, for the 2020 screenings!

Orem Elementary School also returned for a second year, this time with six (!!) movies. For instance, this wonderful adaptation of Carl Hiaasen’s 2003 Honor Book Hoot:

As the judges said, “Starts with kinetic, exciting, high-stakes opening as Dana bullies our hero Roy. We immediately are on Roy’s side as we see him escape. I like how ‘Mullet Fingers’ is disguised in an Iron Man outfit, and Beatrice is a cosplaying Hermione from ‘Harry Potter,’ complete with Hogwarts robes and spell-casting ability (‘Protego!’) . . . Great work!” You can read the complete review here.

Orem Elementary also turned in this fun adaptation of Richard Peck’s 2001 Medal Winner A Year Down Yonder, although the kids who made it weren’t able to attend the screening:

As the judges said, “An exhilarating sprint through the book! That was a fun performance of the crusty, cantankerous ‘Grandma Dowdel,’ and I like how the story was modernized from the 1930s to today by having the characters text each other. The part with the tornado was resourcefully managed by using a storm sound effect and flashing the lights on and off . . . Fast and fun to watch.” You can read the full review here

Orem Elementary also made this adaptation of Sharon Creech’s 1995 Medal Winner Walk Two Moons:

As the judges said, “I like how this movie portrays Sal and her grandparents as sock puppets, serving as a framing device for the story that Sal is telling about her and her friend Phoebe, who are played by real-life actors. Excellent cinematography as well—this movie is very well shot! . . . A fun romp through the book.” The full review is available here here.

Also check out these other movies from Orem Elementary that we showed at the screening: The Westing Game, another version of The Westing Game in the style of “Cluemanji,” a movie of Bridge to Terabithia, and a movie of Bud, Not Buddy. Great job, Orem Elementary School!

I loved my time in Utah, and I can’t wait to come back. Thanks to Michael McClane and the folks at Utah Humanities, Lynne Goodwin and Robert Goodwin and everyone at the Treehouse Museum, Liesl Jacobsen, Sarah Daenitz, Rebecca West, and Aleko Campos of the Salt Lake City Public Library, the Printed Garden bookstore, and all of those young filmmakers and the parents and teachers who supported them.

Here’s to next year! Remember, although movies for next year’s film festival are due in January 2020, you can turn them in anytime! Complete information, including how-to guides and tips, at the 90-Second Newbery website.

Please donate to the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival! It’s tax-deductible. Our fiscal sponsor is Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization.