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The Order of Oddfish


90-Second Newberys from our summer workshop in Hinsdale, IL!

August 16, 2019

As you probably know, about nine years ago I started the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival, an annual video contest in which young filmmakers create short movies that tell the entire stories of Newbery-winning books in about 90 seconds. We screen the best entries in 14 cities around the country.

Back in July, I ran a workshop in Utah helping kids make movies for this film festival (check them out, they’re great!) Last week, I assisted eight young filmmakers in a similar five-day 90-Second Newbery workshop at the Community House in Hinsdale, IL. They blew me away with their creativity and hard work! I showcased the three movies they made on the 90-Second Newbery website, but I want to feature their movies here on my blog too.

For instance, one of those filmmakers, Kevin, astonished me when he single-handedly wrote, drew, animated, and edited this cut-paper stop-motion adaptation of E.B. White’s 1953 Honor Book Charlotte’s Web, recruiting the other workshop participants for voice talent:

You can read the full review on the 90-Second Newbery website, but here’s an excerpt: “Kevin’s drawings are expressive, and he animates them with sophistication and flair. The chattering mouths and blinking eyes and moving eyebrows make the characters seem truly alive — I love the way their expressions are constantly changing, especially when they are responding to each other . . . I love the way Wilbur paces nervously when he’s worried about being slaughtered, and the uniquely stylish webs that Charlotte weaves, and the running joke about the exasperated horse who serves as a counterpoint to Wilbur . . . A 90-Second Newbery classic!”

Next up, Porter and Alec were the masterminds behind this bizarre (and yet, in its own way, true-to-the-original) adaptation of the “Dragons and Giants” vignette from Arnold Lobel’s 1973 Honor Book Frog and Toad Together. In the original short story, Frog and Toad wonder if they are brave, and so they venture out into the woods, where they discover that they are in fact terrified of the snakes, birds, and rockslides that bedevil them (even as they nevertheless shout, “I am not afraid!”). In this adaptation, Porter and Alec make a bold and hilarious change to the original story: here, Frog is a tough-as-nails Marine, and Toad is a stealthy, butt-kicking ninja! (But they’re still afraid.)

The full review is on the 90-Second Newbery website, in which the judges say (in part), “This movie has a fantastic premise, stellar acting, glorious use of green-screen special effects, a fun soundtrack . . . and this tweaked story of Porter’s and Alec’s invention somehow still very effectively encapsulates the spirit of the gentle original story, even as it goes over-the-top in its action-movie characteristics. Great work from the rest of the group as fighters and fans in the final cagematch scene, with wonderful over-the-top acting when Toad is seemingly defeated. This is so much fun to watch thanks to Porter’s and Alec’s utterly committed performances!”

And finally, Sarah and Megan made this hilarious and yet pretty accurate adaptation of Katherine Applegate’s 2013 Medal Winner The One and Only Ivan:

As the review on the 90-Second Newbery website says, “It’s the acting that makes this movie shine! . . . Ivan’s and Ruby’s extended screaming-and-crying freakout reaction to Stella’s death was masterfully funny. From there, the movie zooms efficiently through Ivan’s plan to rescue himself and Ruby from the zoo through his art . . . The costumes were resourceful (especially those big elephant ears and trunks) and the joyful, goofy performances make this a pleasure to watch throughout.”

I had a fantastic week with these talented, funny, hardworking, and sometimes crazy filmmakers. I’m so glad I was able to do this. I’ll almost certainly feature all three of these movies at the Chicago screening of the 90-Second Newbery at the Harold Washington Library on March 8, 2020. But we’re also considering bringing a screening of the 90-Second Newbery to Hinsdale itself, too, so folks don’t have to come all the way to Chicago for the screening. Stay tuned!

If you like what we do at the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival and you’d like us to continue doing it, please consider donating to the 90-Second Newbery here. Donations are tax-deductible, and be honest, if you’ve read this far into the post, you’re kind of already all-in, aren’t you? The 90-Seconds Newbery Film Festival is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non‑profit arts service organization.

Thanks for the great movies, and I’m looking forward to seeing these filmmakers again at the screenings!