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The Madness, Majesty, and Mirth of the SAN FRANCISCO 2020 90-Second Newbery!

February 26, 2020

On February 9th, 2020, we screened the ninth annual 90-Second Newbery Film Festival at the beautiful San Francisco Public Library! I co-hosted it with the effervescent Marcus Ewert (author of picture books 10,000 Dresses, Mummy Cat, and Mr. Pack Rat Really Wants That). Check out our opening skit above, in which Marcus helps regain my Newbery spirit through a Christmas Carol-esque succession of ghosts, culminating in a rewritten version of “The Greatest Show” from The Greatest Showman (and thanks to Caleb for his cameo in the skit!).

This was one of the liveliest, best-attended San Francisco screening we’ve had, with lots of local participation! Thanks so much to the whole team at the SFPL—Jim Jeske, Lyn Davidson, Kenny Avila, Catherine Cormier, Megan Anderson and Meghan Monahan! And thanks so much to my friends Alisha and Sharon for putting me up again, and taking me and my friends out after!

And of course, thanks so much to the young filmmakers, and the teachers, librarians, and family who helped them make their movies. Some of them came onstage after the show, and we had a photo op, or perhaps a murder scene:

At the screening, we showed a mix of movies: some were ringers from all across the country, and some were standout movies made locally. Let’s look at the local Bay Area-made movies!

For instance, here’s an adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s 2009 Newbery Medal Winner The Graveyard Book, done by Sterne School Film Club:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “An extremely impressive stop-motion retelling of the first chapter of The Graveyard Book! The cemetery was detailed and elaborate, the animation fluid and full of personality . . . The music and sounds throughout created just the right spooky atmosphere. Bonus points for the fun credits sequence!”

The next movie is of Rita Williams-Garcia’s 2011 Newbery Honor Book One Crazy Summer, adapted by Ms. Szeto’s Fourth Grade Class of Gordon J. Lau Elementary School:

The judges praised this movie as (full review here), “A fascinating and creative change to the plot of One Crazy Summer: instead of being about three African-American girls visiting their Black-Panther-affiliated mother in 1968 Oakland, California, it’s three Asian-American boys visiting their mother in San Francisco’s Chinatown to rally to free the pandas. Great acting throughout, especially the curt, emotionally withholding mother . . . A fun, creative reimagining of the story.”

Now let’s check out the San Francisco Public Library Afterschool Video Production Club’s movie based on Jerry Spinelli’s 1991 Newbery Medal Winner Maniac Magee:

The judges said on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “Engagingly acted, professionally produced, surprisingly meta retelling of the story! I liked the combination of the use of green screen, black box theater, and live exterior locations to tell the story . . . I liked how at a certain point we exited the story entirely to listen in on the kids reading the book and bicker about the best way to adapt it into a movie. A meta move! It was fascinating to see them critique the book (“I don’t buy that. Nobody would do that”) and it was also goofy fun to watch the bloopers at the end during the credits.”

Another great local movie was this adaptation of Lois Lowry’s 1990 Newbery Medal Winner Number the Stars, by Carolina, Adolfo and Luis of Dolores Huerta Elementary School:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “I liked the casual, breezy energy of this movie . . . The performances were entertaining throughout, but my favorite was that of the most low-key, ridiculously ineffective Nazi of all time (I particularly enjoyed his shrugging mumble of “never mind” when Annemarie lies to him in a totally unconvincing way). A quick sprint through the story!”

Here’s another movie by Dolores Huerta Elementary School. It’s of Katherine Paterson’s 1978 Newbery Medal Winner Bridge to Terabithia, and it’s adapted by Andrea, Juana and Eylin. The twist? It’s a puppet show, and it’s all in Spanish (turn on the subtitles to read the English translations)!

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “It was a fun choice to tell the story in the style of a puppet show, and I also thought it was a good choice to include the names of each character on the puppet, to keep everything clear. The curved paper at the end indicating the “bridge” was an ingenious touch. Everyone’s voiceover acting was emotional and expressive, especially when Leslie died. Fun to watch!”

Here’s another version of Neil Gaiman’s 2009 Newbery Medal Winner The Graveyard Book, also from Dolores Huerta Elementary School, adapted by Neala and Clementine and Caleb (who was in the opening skit!):

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “This movie got off to a rousing start, with the ominous chirping of crickets giving way to bloodcurdling screams as the Man Jack murders the parents (whose post-murder corpses are gruesomely lingered upon!). The portrayal of Baby Bod was humorous and fun to watch, especially when he drops out of the cradle at the start . . . This movie was very resourceful, for instance repurposing a ‘Wet Floor’ sign to be a gravestone, or how Bod fights off enemies armed with nothing but a milk crate. I liked the hyperacceleration of the plot, how Scarlett is both introduced and dismissed within the same scene! But I wonder, who are those two folks with the backwards hoodies whom Bod defeats at the end??”

The last movie movie I’d like to highlight is of Rebecca Stead’s 2010 Newbery Medal Winner When You Reach Me, adapted by Astral and Defy of Star Stuff Academy:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “A creative, inventive, and visually unique sprint through the story! I liked how the story was told through artfully posed Lego figures (in particular, that Lego man depicting Dick Clark was perfectly chosen). The glitchy old-timey 1980s VHS video effect was a smart choice, situating the viewer in the era of 1979 when the story of the book happened . . . The voice acting throughout was expressive and conveyed the main plot points clearly and with a lot of emotional engagement. I was impressed that you went through the trouble to get the theme music for the $20,000 Pyramid for that scene, complete with crowd noises.”

And those were the local entries for the 2020 San Francisco 90-Second Newbery Film Festival! Remember, it’s never too early to start making movies for next year. The deadline is in January 2021, but you can turn them in anytime! Complete details, including tips for filmmakers, can be found at the 90-Second Newbery website.

Thanks so much, San Francisco! I’ll see you next year! And if you enjoyed this FREE film festival, please consider making a donation to the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival. It’s tax-deductible. Our fiscal sponsor is Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization.