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The Order of Oddfish


Thank You, Tacoma, For An Astounding 2019 90-Second Newbery Screening!

March 29, 2019

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It’s one of my favorite shows of the year! Last week the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival stomped its way through Tacoma, Washington with a crowded screening at their historic Blue Mouse Theatre. We got so many great movies from Tacoma this year, and the show was a dream! That’s all due to the hard work of the Tacoma Public Library’s most valuable player, Sara Sunshine Holloway:

And almost every time I’ve done the film festival in Tacoma, it’s been with the hilarious and talented Doug Mackey, who always brings his great energy to every performance. I love working with this guy.

Special thanks to Ellaina, who helped with the opening skit as the Sergeant-at-Arms of the HIGH NEWBERY COUNCIL! Unfortunately, the camera that we had recording the opening skit was on the fritz, so the footage was unusable, but here’s Ellaina and me, plus a look at when the heads started exploding during the skit:

Special thanks also to John Hargis and Isaac who handled the lights and all the transitions in the tech booth! And of course thanks to all the great filmmakers who came out in force for the event:

Let’s look at the Tacoma-made movies from this year! There was an impressive batch, from many different schools and families and organizations! For instance, here’s Matt de la Pena’s 2016 Medal Winner Last Stop on Market Street as made by Avery and Nicolas of the Tukwila Library (with special thanks to Reel Grrrls):

As the judges wrote in the 90-Second Newbery website (full review here), “The elaborate cut-paper people, buildings, trees, and even animals were expertly crafted and beautiful to look at . . . The voiceover acting was expressive, sensitive, and true to the gentle spirit of the book . . . That kind of craftsmanship makes the whole thing seem more vivid and real!”

Fletch and Otto of Tacoma made this charming movie of the “Cookies” vignette from Arnold Lobel’s 1973 Honor Book Frog and Toad Together:

As the judges wrote in the 90-Second Newbery website (full review here), “Charming, beautifully shot and edited, and true to the book! This was a delightful Frog and an adorable Toad. I loved the earnest, patient way Toad explains to Frog how the cookies could be reached, and Frog’s repeated roars of frustration felt real! . . . This movie looked great, with sharp camera work and careful editing that told the story clearly and amusingly.”

Nigel and Simone made this movie of Jean Craighead George’s 1960 Honor Book My Side of the Mountain, telling this survival story to the tune of Gloria Gaynor’s 1970s disco hit “I Will Survive”:

As the judges wrote in the 90-Second Newbery website (full review here), “I appreciated the use of real animals and outdoor locations to make the story feel authentic . . . There was great slapstick visual comedy in how the librarian kept stacking more and more books in Sam’s hands, in the end just hurling them at him, until he loses his grip on all the books and they go tumbling! . . . This was super entertaining.”

Every year, Mr. Johnson’s 5th Grade at the Grant Center for Expressive Arts turns in some amazing movies, many of which I show nationally. For instance, check out this version of Sterling North’s 1964 Honor Book Rascal: A Memoir of a Better Era, about a boy and his raccoon:

As the judges wrote in the 90-Second Newbery website (full review here), “Between the old-time piano background music, the old-fashioned clothes, and the breakneck-speed narrative, this movie is super-enjoyable to watch from start to finish. The cinematography and editing were crisp and assured: I especially liked the comical jump cut when the extravagantly-mustached father slurps down his coffee and says, ‘Yup!’ The deployment of Rascal in the various scenes was very artful, from the right-behind-him point-of-view shot when he opens the door, to the part when Rascal’s fishing line catches . . . a whale?!? . . . And I loved the ending of this movie, in which we find out what Rascal REALLY did when he was released . . . Funny, resourceful, and ingenious!”

That’s not the only movie we received from Mr. Johnson’s class. We also received this movie of the short story “The Gingi” from Patricia McKissack’s 1993 Honor Book The Dark-Thirty: Southern Tales of the Supernatural, in which the cursed statue that a mother brings home to her house is here replaced by a McDonald’s Happy Meal:

As the judges wrote in the 90-Second Newbery website (full review here), “Funny, surprising, and refreshingly irreverent! From the start, the title cards and suitably spooky music were effective in setting the proper ghost-story mood . . . I appreciated the slow-burn feeling of this, the way it starts totally normal but then slowly and subtly deepens the spooky atmosphere . . . I laughed out loud with shock when the mother actually exploded!”

Mr. Johnson’s 5th Grade also made this great version of Erin Entrada Kelly’s 2018 Medal Winner Hello, Universe, twisting the ending so that the guinea pig who got thrown in the well exacts some revenge on the bully character:

As the judges wrote in the 90-Second Newbery website (full review here), “This is exactly the kind of twist I love to see in a 90-Second Newbery! This movie tells the story of Hello, Universe accurately and respectfully, carefully introducing the characters and situations with admirable economy and style . . . and then refreshingly throws it all out the window for a satisfying and ridiculous finale! . . . I laughed and gasped with delight as Gulliver grew to huge proportions and then chased the bully. A funny, irreverent adaptation of the book!”

Here’s another inventive twist on a classic book by Mr. Johnson’s 5th Grade: remaking Gary Paulsen’s 1988 Honor Book Hatchet in the style of the video game Fortnite:

As the judges wrote in the 90-Second Newbery website (full review here), “Unique and hilarious . . . The shots were well-framed and the editing was crisp . . . I liked the green-screened chests that keep appearing . . . and how they all seem to have the same thing, a hatchet. Cutting from ‘Seriously, another hatchet?’ to a cave full of hatchets was comic genius . . . Amazing work!”

There’s one more movie from Mr. Johnson’s 5th Grade that I’d like to highlight, and it’s of Joan W. Blos’ 1980 Medal Winner A Gathering of Days: A New England Girl’s Journal, 1830-1832:

As the judges wrote in the 90-Second Newbery website (full review here), “I appreciated the meticulous attention to detail: the accurate period costumes, the resourceful use of green screen, the extensive use of outdoors locations, and the emotionally appropriate music that seems to sync up to the actions onscreen. There was even a fun bird puppet! . . . My favorite parts were the irreverent touches, like one character anachronistically saying ‘Oh sure whatevsies,’ or the wedding kiss being interrupted by the director storming on set and bellowing, ‘Cut! Guys, remember we’ve gotta keep this PG!'”

Thanks for all those great movies, Mr. Johnson’s 5th Grade from the Grant School For Expressive Arts!

Let’s look at some other movies from Tacoma that we featured at the screening. For instance, there was this ambitious and exciting version of Robin McKinley’s 1985 Medal Winner The Hero and the Crown by Martin Anderson, Aunya Crow, Quinn Sukys, Vivian Sukys, Olivier Bonjour, and Josiah Anderson:

As the judges wrote in the 90-Second Newbery website (full review here), “The performances were suitably outsized and heroic, and yet grounded in authentic emotion. The first shot, of a grand castle-like structure, puts the viewer in the high fantasy mood, though the next scene takes care to bring the action down to earth by having Galanna rant against our hero Aerin. After Aerin gets her mission, I was amused at how she ‘rides her horse’ (a stop-motion sequence with a toy rocking horse, very resourceful!) . . . Great background music throughout, and the swordfight against Agsded was very well handled! It feels genuinely triumphant when Aerin thrusts the crown into the air, and the head of the dragon as well! ”

The 4th and 5th Grade Students from Rainier Elementary School at the Joint Base Lewis-McChord, WA did this fun adaptation of Linda Sue Park’s 2002 Medal Winner A Single Shard:

As the judges wrote in the 90-Second Newbery website (full review here), “What a creative and resourceful reimagining of the story! I loved the stroke of brilliance of making Min a baker instead of a potter . . . and so his masterpieces aren’t vases, but cakes! I loved all the performances: the snarky, cantankerous baker Min, the supplicating and constantly bowing Tree-Ear, the sassy wife (‘Well, we’re not just going to leave her in the streets!’). Excellent cinematography and crisp editing whipped this movie along efficiently and with style.”

Browns Point Elementary did this great version of Kimberly Brubaker Bradley’s 2016 Honor Book The War That Saved My Life, in which the students provided all the music themselves:

As the judges wrote in the 90-Second Newbery website (full review here), “Wow! The piano playing in this movie really made it stand out! I thought it was brilliant to have the music change throughout, to match the emotion and energy of each scene. The green screen and costumes were resourceful and made the world convincing. The acting was especially engaging and believable: ‘Mam’ was satisfyingly boo-hiss mean and cruel, Ada was tragically put-upon and earnest and finally triumphant, brother Jamie was by turns defiant and authentically childish, and Susan’s arc from resisting kids to welcoming them was well-played.”

Every year the Seabury School in Tacoma submits a lot of great movies, so many that unfortunately we can’t possibly feature them all at the screening. Let’s look at two that we were able to feature this year, for instance Victoria Maeng and friends’ adaptation of Richard and Florence Atwater’s 1939 Honor Book Mr. Popper’s Penguins (which dwells amusingly on the Poppers’ dysfunctional marriage):

As the judges wrote in the 90-Second Newbery website (full review here), “I loved this bonkers, high-energy, irreverent take on the story! I enjoyed how Mr. Popper is here played as a naive layabout, and his wife Mrs. Popper is an over-the-top exasperated housewife, clunking around with her big stick and nagging Mr. Popper and getting frustrated with his Antarctic obsessions. It was especially funny when she snatched his newspaper, rolling it up and began battering him with it, calling him ‘a lazy one’ . . . the “penguins” obviously had a lot of fun rolling around in it! Great acting from everyone, and it told the story quickly and with enthusiasm and ingenuity!”

Also from Seabury School, we received this version of Lois Lowry’s 1994 Medal Winner The Giver from Ishaan K. and friends:

As the judges wrote in the 90-Second Newbery website (full review here), “This was a low-key but artfully effective adaptation. I like how it started with scenes that could’ve easily been from our own world (realistic and grounded scenes of hanging out with one’s family, walking to school with a friend), and then subtly beginning to introduce the dystopian aspects of the world of the story . . . It was a fun choice to have the camera zoom dramatically into Jonas’ face when he is shocked at the rule ‘You May Lie’ or when he discovers the truth about ‘release’ . . . A fun, accurate sprint through the book!”

Along with Victoria’s and Ishaan’s movies, we received a lot of other great movies from Seabury School this year. You can see them all here.

We also received a batch of good movies from Summit Trail Middle School in Maple Valley, WA, including this movie of Katherine Paterson’s 1978 Medal Winner A Bridge to Terabithia by Emma, Peyton, Josh, Jessica, and David:

As the judges wrote in the 90-Second Newbery website (full review here), “It was a smart idea to start with the footrace that sparks Leslie and Jesse’s friendship. The scene with Leslie and Jesse and the rope in the woods was well-done, revealing their different characters by their different attitudes towards the rope: I liked how it highlighted Leslie’s daredevil pushiness and Jesse’s more circumspect wariness. And their different outfits — Jesse’s drab, Leslie’s whimsical — also worked well to show their different personalities (‘Don’t let go, and just let it happen!’) . . . Fast, resourcefully shot, and faithful to the book!”

We actually got quite a few movies from Summit Trail Middle School. You can see them all here.

There are a few more movies I want to feature on this post that we showed at the screening. For instance, 7-year-old M. Hanawalt did this delightful puppet show of Patricia MacLachlan’s 1986 Medal Winner Sarah, Plain and Tall:

As the judges wrote in the 90-Second Newbery website (full review here), “Creative use of hand-made puppetry and hand-drawn backgrounds to tell the story! I liked the resourceful and clever use of a paintbrush to portray a broom in the puppet’s hands. The voice acting was engaging and convincing, and Sarah’s paisley dress was quite groovy! The movie sprints through the story entertainingly, and covers a surpsingly large amount of the plot. Good job!”

And finally, we also featured at the screening a movie based on a book that drew from events that happened right in Tacoma, of Katherine Applegate’s 2013 Medal Winner The One and Only Ivan:

As the judges wrote in the 90-Second Newbery website (full review here), “I loved that this movie used such a wonderfully elaborate, real-looking gorilla costume for Ivan (and good performance too, beating his chest and trying to peel the banana)! There was also a good use of stock photos and archival newspapers to tell Tacoma’s story of Ivan. The scenes with Ivan being fed or listening to his human supervisors were well-shot and fun to watch. The informative voiceover kept the story on track and clear. I especially liked the ‘feeding’ scene of Ivan!”

And that was the 2019 Tacoma 90-Second Newbery Film Festival! Thanks again to Sara Sunshine Holloway and everyone at the Tacoma Public Library and the good people at the Blue Mouse theatre, as well as my co-host Doug Mackey, tech wizards John Hargis and Isaac, and of course all the young filmmakers and their teachers and parents and facilitators who helped this whole thing to come together. I always have a great time in Tacoma! Here’s the final montage of all the movies, below. And please consider donating to keep us going!