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The Order of Oddfish


90-Second Newberys from my Center for Talent Development class

January 3, 2014

The Chicago premiere of the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival is fast approaching, on February 1, 2014! Screenings in other cities follow. Check out the event calendar to the right for details. Our Chicago screening has been packed in the past, so if you’re planning to attend, make sure to reserve your seat in advance! It’s free!

All through January I’ll be posting 90-Second Newbery videos I’ve received. This first batch is special. Last summer, Chicago filmmaker John Fecile and I taught 5th and 6th graders a 3-week class in making 90-Second Newbery movies at Northwestern University’s Center for Talent Development Summer Program (and I’ll be doing it again this summer).

The students were super-talented, enthusiastic, and hard-working. It was a pleasure to help them make their 90-Second Newbery adaptations. They wrote their own scripts, shot the movies themselves, acted in the movies themselves, did editing and sound themselves—the whole shebang! I encouraged them to make bold genre choices, not only summarizing the book but also doing it in the idiom of a different movie style.

So, for instance, some students adapted Karen Cushman’s 1996 Medal winner The Midwife’s Apprentice, which was about a teenager learning to become a midwife in medieval England. But they did it in the style of a spaghetti western—here, The Good, The Bad, and the Midwife’s Apprentice:

I love how their script uses lots of Western lingo “Jesus save my soul! I’m a-cashin’ in!” “Not on my can openers!” The birth scenes are particularly fun, and I love the closeups on the eyes and mouths during the standoff scenes. Great job!

John Fecile and I were astonished when we realized that almost nobody in the class knew about Monty Python. When we showed it to them, most of the class of course thought it was hilarious, and so one group decided to adapt the 1949 Honor Book My Father’s Dragon in the style of Monty Python and the Holy Grail:

The pitch-perfect imitation of Monty Python and the Holy Grail’s opening credits is a nice touch. I’m glad they nailed the necessary inclusion of the servant imitating the sounds of the horse with the coconuts. The accent on the “French mouse” was fantastic, as well as King Arthur’s Graham-Chapman-esque mannerisms. Great all around!

An even wilder genre-twisting choice was to adapt Lloyd Alexander’s 1966 Honor Book The Black Cauldron in the style of the sitcom I Love Lucy. Instead of an epic quest to destroy a black cauldron, it’s a small dinner party ruined by complications over a black crock pot:

Great performances, camera work, editing! A loose adaptation but still valid—it does more or less track the plot, down to Ellidyr “sacrificing” himself (but instead of throwing himself into the black cauldron, he eats the stuff in the black pt). Everything clicked here. I like how the witches are just a bunch of neighbors, and how Taran is a “Babalu”-playing Ricky Ricardo and Eilonwy is an anxious Lucy. Nice use of laugh track and sitcom tropes.

Here’s another black-and-white one. It’s another adaptation of My Father’s Dragon, but this time done in the style of a horror movie:

There are parts of this that are legitimately scary—something about all those masks and hissing. And I love the way every animal that Elmer meets dies a grisly death, starting with the cat at the very beginning who is knifed to death! Grim! Great use of horror music here, too.

And The Midwife’s Apprentice was once again adapted by a different group of kids, but this time in the genre of a surreal superhero story:

That one gets so bonkers I’m not quite sure what to say about it. (“Oh no! The babies are eating the Constitution of the United States of America!”) It’s such accelerated nonsense I can’t help but love it . . .

And finally, here’s The Midwife’s Apprentice done in the style of a musical:

Great job with the original songs and singing, girls!

Thanks so much, students from the CTD! I look forward to seeing many of you at the screening in Chicago on February 1!