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The Order of Oddfish

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The Splendor, Sass, and Stupendousness of the SAN ANTONIO 2020 90-Second Newbery Film Festival!

March 10, 2020

I’ve been on the road a lot, but I can’t let another day go by without talking about what an amazing time I had at the San Antonio screening of the 2020 90-Second Newbery Film Festival on February 15!

Just as in the past few yeares, it was held at the Witte Museum, and it was sponsored by the great folks at H-E-B (especially Christa Aldrich) and BiblioTech (especially Laura Cole, Carlos Sauceda, and the rest of her team) and the Hidalgo Foundation (thanks to Judge Nelson Wolff and Tracy Ann Wolff).

This is the sixth year we’ve done the 90-Second Newbery in San Antonio. It’s the city where we get the largest crowds and the most movies, and it’s all because of the incredible team and resources Bibliotech, H-E-B, and the Hidalgo Foundation put together, year after year! Thank you so much. I always love coming to San Antonio.

This year my intrepid co-host was the charming, game-for-anything, dryly hilarious Carolyn Flores (author of the picture book Canta, Rana, Canta and more). She was an absolute pro from the word go, with great comic timing. She pulled off the opening skit and the between-movie banter with verve and style. I don’t have a video yet of it, but I’ll put it up when I get it. In the meantime, here we are:

This year we had just under 600 registered attendees (although I think we had maybe 400 in the audience) and way over 100 Texas submissions. The show kicked off with speeches from the San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg (!!) and Hollywood actor Tony Plana. What an honor! The mayor had spoken at the film festival last year too, which was awesome, but this was the first time I’d met Tony Plana. I was too shy to tell him how much I appreciated him in of one of my favorite scenes from the endlessly-quotable 1980s comedy classic The Three Amigos. Tony Plana played Jefe, the second-in-command to the bandit El Guapo, and often in my life I’ve thought of the “Plethora of Pinatas” scene. Below, Tony Plana’s to the left, and Mayor Nirenberg is to the right (with organizers Christa Aldrich and Laura Cole):

Anyway, on to the movies! San Antonio is the only city where I show strictly ONLY locally-made movies, with no ringers brought from out-of-state. And it’s the only screening where we have cash prizes for the schools, libraries, and groups who made the movies, thanks to H-E-B!

The grand-prize-winning movie this year was adapted from the 1972 Honor Book Annie and the Old One by Miska Miles, and it was done by Alinne and Brenda Romero-Torres of the Young Women’s Leadership Academy in San Antonio:

And here is their movie, which is so good I’ve shown it at every screening in all the cities in 2020:

As the judges said in part of the 90-Second Newbery website (full review here), “This is an all-time, gargantuan, demolishing-all-competitors amazing 90-Second Newbery movie . . . Everything about this movie is beautiful: the background music, the turning of the pages as they get whited out to make way for the animated images, the way the pages seem to cut themselves into ribbons and weave themselves together! The spoken narration is beautiful and sensitively done . . . A magnificent achievement!”

Second place for the middle and high school category went to Juárez Elizarraraz of the Advanced Learning Academy for his brilliant and resourceful one-man show version of Avi’s 2003 Medal Winner Crispin: The Cross of Lead. Here he is with his brother Galileo, who won an honorable mention in the elementary section for his animated movie of Fred Gipson’s 1957 Honor Book Old Yeller. (Juárez also helped out in the opening skit, which I’ll get online as soon as possible!)

Here’s Crispin: The Cross of Lead:

As the judges said on the 90-Second Newbery website (full review here), “What a masterful one-man show! The cinematography was crisp throughout, with lots of great closeups and insert shots — and a tour de force in the scenes where the single actor, playing two different roles, ‘fights’ himself! . . . This movie tells the story of the book in a unique, enterprising, and resourceful way!”

And while I’m at it, here’s brother Galileo Elizarraraz’s movie of Old Yeller, also of the Advanced Learning Academy, which won an honorable mention in the elementary category. It’s done in an animated style:

As the review says on the 90-Second Newbery website (full review here), “Brilliantly animated! I liked the background music, the clear and witty narration, and the great artistic details like the roaring bear, the glow of love around Shiloh, and the various goofy expressions of the characters. The voiceover was refreshingly irreverent . . . Brisk, enjoyable, entertaining!”

But wait, I skipped the third place winner for high and middle school! It was based on 2018 Newbery Honor Book Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes, and it’s by Michael and Brandon of Thomas Jefferson High School:

As the judges said in part (full review here), “I loved the charisma and enthusiasm of this . . . The cinematography was crisp and tight and worked well with the narration to tell the story, like when he’s getting a good grade on the test or the girls are cooing over him. I’m totally taken with the satisfied, smug look on the haircut guy’s face, it’s his attitude that makes the movie!”

There was also an honorable mention from the high and middle school category that I want to highlight, and it’s an adaptation of Gary Paulsen’s 1988 Honor Book Hatchet by Jackson Nettleingham of Katy, TX. Here I am with Jackson when he’s receiving his award:

(Why do you keep making that face, Kennedy? Stop making that face!!)

And here’s his video of Hatchet. (I’m having a hard time embedding it, so you’ll just have to click the link to see it.)

As the judges said on the 90-Second Newbery website (full review here), “The cinematography of this movie is fantastic . . . I appreciated how this movie dispensed with the initial bits about the mother and the plane and dove straight into the meat of the story: how Brian survives against the wilderness! I liked the attention to detail in the camerawork, such as the closeup shot of Brian’s hand as he uses the bow and arrow, or the bird as it falls . . . Minimal and yet tells the whole story. Well done!”

This year, we had a separate category of rankings for movies received from elementary schools. The first place in the elementary category went to this movie of Cece Bell’s 2015 Newbery Honor Book El Deafo, made by Sophia R., Joe C., Miguel M.-G., Zoe V., Danae R., Ivanna H., Camila G., Keily M.-M., Perla R., Santos R., Naimah C., Malakie R., Louis V., Mario O., Julian T., Jesus P., Nathaniel Y. of Price Elementary:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “I loved how many parts of this movie were done in the true telenovela style, with lots of amusing overacting and over-the-top melodramatic performances! Doing the whole thing in Spanish (with English captions) put a really fun and unique twist on this video . . . A real joy to watch!”

Second place in the elementary category went to this movie of Jerry Spinelli’s 1991 Newbery Medal Winner Maniac Magee, made by 3rd and 4th Grade of Lamar Elementary Wondercourse Students:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “The stop-motion animation in this movie is super impressive . . . I loved in particular the flying tears, the ‘yelling’ lines coming from Maniac’s parents, the way Maniac’s hand snatches a football out of the sky, how Amanda’s book gets ripped in half, and the looming buffalo! . . . I liked how the stop-motion animated figures were all monochromatic black and white . . . The paper cutouts were all done in a compelling style that was simple and clear without being too obvious. This movie rocks!”

Third place for elementary schools went to this movie of Arnold Lobel’s 1973 Newbery Honor Book Frog and Toad Together, made by Amara, Ailani, Angel & Eric of Collins Garden Elementary. I was lucky enough to get a picture with them:

And here’s their wonderful movie:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “Utterly charming . . . The music selection sets the fun tone beautifully. The voice performances made me believe that Frog and Toad are good friends and are going to have a thoroughly good time whever they are together. The claymation Frog and Toad are nicely done in their simplicity and I like that the movie took an abstract approach with all the scenery and props.”

There were two honorable mentions for the elementary section. I already mentioned the first one, which went to Galileo’s animated version of Old Yeller. The other honorable mention in the elementary category went to this movie of Wanda Gag’s 1929 Newbery Honor Book Millions of Cats, made by Carlos V & Eric U of Madison Elementary:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “This was a very impressive use of stop motion! The movements were so fluid! It was an original idea to use Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head to represent the old man and old woman, and the use of pom-pom puffballs for the cats was clever and resourceful . . . I was amused at how the cats ‘fought’ — by throwing the puffballs around crazily!”

There were a lot of other great Texas-made movies featured at the screening, but we don’t have space in this blog post to mention them all! But you should check them out by clicking on them here:


The Year of Billy Miller by My’Ariah S, Mason H, Laila O, Jace B of Miller Elementary (San Antonio, TX)

Bridge to Terabithia by Antonia Dunsmore of Colony Meadows Elementary (Sugarland, TX)

The Book of Boy by India D., Patricio H., Julian N., Sophia R., and Angelica S. of St. Anthony Catholic School (San Antonio, TX)

Frog and Toad Together by Aria, Anabel, Brooke, Alaina, and Viktoria of Young Women’s Leadership Academy Primary (San Antonio, TX)

Hello, Universe by Marely R, Braeson B, Isaiah A, Marely R, Paulina C, Khloe R, Anastasia G, Gizzel F, Makayla A, K’marie A, and Solomon C. of Armstrong Elementary SSAISD (San Antonio, TX)

The Tale of Despereaux by Eloisa B., Alexis E., Arturo P., and Scotty F. of Carvajal ES (GT) (San Antonio, TX)

The Graveyard Book by Eric C., Adelaide H., Israel G., Achilles G., Nyssa D, Layla V., Angelo C., Gracie H., Selin C., Melanie G., and Dayvan C. of Frances M. Rhodes Elementary (San Antonio, TX)

Johnny Tremain by Cecelia Weaver, James McGuyre, Grayson Weekley, Ivana Kovalska, Kat Luna, Alicia Washington, Gabriel Dittfurth, and Ryan Shaw of St. Luke’s Episcopal School (San Antonio, TX)

Millions of Cats by Josephine A., Ian F., Aleksander G., Serenity S., Owen S., and Oliver V. of Hawthorne Academy-2nd Grade GT Students (San Antonio, TX)

The Westing Game by Trinity Episcopal School (Austin, TX)

Thanks so much for a great 90-Second Newbery screening, San Antonio! I’m looking forward to seeing what you make next year—and it’s not too early to start making your movies now! You can find lots of help at the 90-Second Newbery website, especially screenwriting, cinematography, and editing help at our Video Resources page. See you next February!

Oh, and if you like what we’re doing here, 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.