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RECAP: Chicago screening of the 2nd Annual 90-Second Newbery Film Festival

February 18, 2013

That happy crowd above? It’s the audience at last week’s Chicago screening of the 2nd Annual 90-Second Newbery Film Festival. It was great fun! Thanks to everyone who came! (Don’t know what the 90-Second Newbery is? Here you go.)

If you’re interested, Time Out Chicago did a feature of some of their favorite 90-Second Newbery movies from this year. Go watch them!

We filled the 385-seat Pritzker Auditorium of the Harold Washington Library in downtown Chicago. Thanks to Emily Schwartz, founding impresario of The Strange Tree Group, for these pictures of the evening! We already screened the film festival in New York back in December. Don’t forget, we’re going to screen the film festival in Tacoma, WA on 2/23 and Portland, OR on 2/24!

Thanks to my co-host for the evening, Blue Balliett, bestselling author of Chasing Vermeer and other children’s books (including the upcoming Hold Fast, which I loved!). Blue was everything I could’ve asked for in a co-host, from her able banter right down to her glamorous gown, which had a black-and-white stole that was itself a sly Chasing Vermeer reference! Here we are singing the 90-Second Newbery theme song (b’garg, nobody videotaped it in Chicago! But here’s what it sounded like when Jon Scieszka and I sang it at the New York screening):

A funny thing . . . The night before the screening, I finished all my preparation and decided to settle in and watch the whole film festival screening on my computer, just to make sure all was well. I poured myself a nice glass of wine and . . . immediately spilled it all over my computer! Destroying it! With twelve hours to go before the screening!

Needless to say, I was freaking out. But thanks to my brother-in-law Chris and my upstairs neighbor David (and the fact my computer automatically backs up everything into the cloud via BackBlaze, and a couple trips to the Mac Store), I was able to pull everything together in time for the screening. But: frantic!

Here are some more choice shots from the screening. This first one is crowd response from when Chicago theater group Elephant and Worm (who did this year’s musical adaptation of Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH and last year’s musical adaptation of The Twenty-One Balloons) did a short audience-participation skit after their movie:

Here’s a shot from the first movie, Bookie Woogie Blog’s masterful retelling of Arnold Lobel’s 1973 Newbery Honor Book Frog and Toad Together:

The casts of many of the movies were in attendance, including Izzy, Zach, Alex, Amy, and Asher from Burley Elementary in Chicago, with whom I worked to make this 90-Second Newbery movie of Margi Preus’ Heart of Samurai entirely in Japanese, in the style of an Akira Kurosawa movie. It was great seeing them again after working so hard with them on this movie last year!

Other Chicago-area folks who showed up were Larissa Zageris’ students of Chase Elementary who made a horror-movie-trailer version of An American Plague, the Aurora Library that did a Real World version of Ingrid Law’s Savvy, and the Norborg family that made a very cute Belling the Tiger, all of which can be seen here. We also had an avant-garde version of Dark Star of Itza by my old friend Max Pitchkites (check out his Order of Odd-Fish art!) and an epic Tale of Despereaux by Play Mechanics. Not to mention another great puppet version of Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH from Drummond Montessori and an assured, cinematic The Giver from Ian of Westmont, IL. And that’s just the Chicago area!

As with every 90-Second Newbery Film Festival screening, we featured some comical interludes. Now, since the Newbery Medal winner last year, Jack Gantos, spent 15 months in the federal pen over smuggling some contraband back when he was 20, I decided to investigate other Newbery winners to see if they also had unsavory pasts. Many of them did! So I decided to do a quiz about the Dark Side of the Newbery with a volunteer from the audience. All true, mind you. Can you guess the answers to the questions below?

Answers: A, B, B, and C.

We also played a game in honor of this year’s 75th Anniversary of the Caldecott Medal, in which children’s picture book author and artist Aaron Zenz faced off against a young audience member, trying to draw in 75 seconds what they think the cover of a particular obscure Caldecott-winning book might look like. (Aaron is also the paterfamilias behind the (home-schooled!) family that made some of the best 90-Second Newbery videos I’ve received: a shadow-puppet version of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, an animated version of The Black Cauldron, and this year’s aforementioned hilarious Muppets-style version of Frog and Toad Together). Here are Aaron and our young volunteer furiously drawing:

While we were waiting for them to draw their covers, we played a game of “If They Mated” with various Newbery winners:

Aaron managed to bring his many kids, whom I was delighted to meet after the show!

Now, some thanks are in order. The Chicago screening never would’ve happened without my main man at the CPL, Andrew Medlar:

The “Dark Side of the Newbery” research and “If They Mated” graphic work was courtesy of friend, librarian, and partner-in-crime Eti Berland. Thanks to Aaron Zenz for doing the 75-Second Caldecott with us. And of course thanks to everyone who made a movie this year, especially those who showed up at the screening. Thanks to the Book Table from Oak Park who showed up to sell books. And thanks to all the folks at the library who worked hard to make this a success!

The deadline for movies for the 3rd Annual 90-Second Newbery Film Festival is December 2013. Get cracking!

We’ll wrap this up with the closing montage we showed of all the movies we featured, plus a few extra pictures (thanks to Mark Greenberg of Mayfair Workshop for the music!)

Happy Valentine’s Day (with Odd-Fish art from Emily Bricker!)

February 14, 2013

Right now I’m working on a full recap of Sunday’s Chicago screening of the Second Annual 90-Second Newbery Film Festival. It should be up tomorrow!

In the meantime, here are four Order of Odd-Fish valentines in honor of today’s holiday, courtesy of our old friend Emily Bricker! Here everyone’s in character: Jo puckishly hinting at her dark divinity, Nora speaking in paranoid code, Colonel Korsakov huffing and puffing about his digestion as usual, and Sefino sternly exhorting his beloved to do something scandal-worthy with him. Wonderful stuff! Thanks, Emily!

In the past Emily has done an Odd-Fish Christmas card as well as a plush doll of Sefino, as well as drawings here and here (and a video!).

Thanks so much for this, Emily—I love it! Happy Valentine’s Day!

90-Second Newbery: Three FOUR Pacific Northwest Frog and Toads!

February 7, 2013

The sold-out Chicago screening of the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival is this Sunday, February 10, at the Harold Washington Library! I visited co-host Blue Balliett‘s house today to work out our banter and our singing (!). Can’t make Chicago? We have screenings in Tacoma, WA (2/23) and Portland, OR (2/24) coming up! All details here.

Speaking of Tacoma, check out above this super-stylish, Wes-Anderson-esque 90-Second Newbery adaptation of Arnold Lobel’s 1973 Newbery Honor Book Frog And Toad Together, as done by Sara Truscott of Tacoma! Sara takes one of the vignettes from the book, “The List,” and makes an entire elegant, bewitching ye-ye music video around that. A brilliant stroke to make Frog and Toad young lovers. I loved all the little touches: the way she rings the doorbell, the way he answers the door, the flying-in-the-wind list special effect, “go to sleep” written out in flowers . . . this is great stuff!

UPDATE! Crazily enough, that’s not the only Frog and Toad Together adaptation I got from the Pacific Northwest! I have three more to share with you today. From Portland Community Media comes this masterful animated version of Frog and Toad Together—all five vignettes from the book, each one animated in a different style:

Wow, what a doozy this one is! Five different teams worked on animating this. “The List” is done as a silent movie with intertitles in a gentle, casual hand-drawn style. I liked the sunset effect in particular. “The Garden” was done as a three-dimensional cut-paper stop-motion movie—I loved the weird voices, the cotton clouds, and the “night” effect! The third, “Cookies,” uses sock puppets and a gorgeously elaborate set. I particularly liked Frog and Toad’s voices, the effect of going “through” the window, and the birds attacking the cookies! The fourth, “Dragons and Giants,” is an great Claymation that boasts a terrifyingly slithery snake and flying bird (I also like the totally stripped-down dialogue)! The last one, “The Dream,” is a slickly (computer?) animated, atmospheric piece that is just as dreamlike as the story. Tremendous job, Portland Community Media!

But wait, we’re not through yet! There’s also this very enjoyable Frog and Toad Together, by Jake Keister and Nikki Baldwin, which also covers all the vignettes in the book:

I love the breakneck pace at which the vignettes flash past, some in as few as 10 seconds! Now that’s compression! I especially liked the shot of Toad on the high wire above Frog. It’s all wittily done. Interestingly, Nikki and Jake use the same sort of dolls that Aaron Zenz and family used for their own breakout adaptation of Frog and Toad Together earlier this year.

Weird thing: last year I got only one Frog and Toad Together movie for the 90-Second Newbery. This year, tons! What gives? It’s a mystery! Here’s one final wonderful Frog and Toad Together adaptation for today, this time from Seaside Public Library in Seaside, Oregon:

What a great idea to do it as a silent black-and-white movie! And the music choice really made this shine, too. It’s impressive how much of the vignettes the folks from Seaside were able to get across just with movement and facial expressions. I especially liked how Frog was becoming “smaller” in the chair until Frog disappears in “The Dream.” Another winner!

I’m looking forward to seeing all you talented filmmakers at the upcoming screenings in Tacoma and Portland! Now: time to concentrate and get myself ready for this Sunday’s screening in Chicago!

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