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The Order of Oddfish


Our 90-Second Newbery Film Festival kicks off its 2020 season in radiant Rochester, NY!

February 4, 2020

The NINTH season of the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival is underway! We had our premiere screening on February 1 in Rochester, NY at the Rochester Museum and Science Center. There we are onstage with some of the young filmmakers after the screening!

Thanks so much to our longtime Rochester sponsors Delta Airlines, the Friends & Foundation of the Rochester Public Library, RIT Magic Spell Studio, Cheshire Audio Visual, and Rochester Community TV for making this possible. Thanks to Johanna Perrin Middle School, Our Lady of Mercy School For Young Women, and Hillel Community Day School for hosting me in the days leading up to the screening.

And thanks especially to Carol White Llewelyn of RCTV and Deb Ross (of our media sponsor, They’re the ones who really make the wheels turn for the Rochester 90-Second Newbery! And they’re great friends. (Carol’s the one who took all the pictures in this post.)

An extra special thanks to my co-host, legendary author Bruce Coville! It was a privilege to be onstage with him. Our opening skit was all about me losing the Newbery spirit, and then I’m visited by three ghosts, all played by Bruce . . . I think you see where this is going. (I’ll have a video up once I get it, but I wanted to get this post up right away.) And big thanks to Kyle for playing the younger version of me, and Jacyn for playing his friend! The opening skit and the show went better than I could’ve expected, especially since I was still frantically putting the show together late the night before.

The costumes were provided by Stages Theater in Rochester, thanks again to the ever-resourceful Deb Ross. I’m very thankful!

And of course the biggest thanks go to our young filmmakers who actually provided the show! The show featured eight movies created right in the Rochester area (along with six more of this year’s best from around the country). Let’s check out the Rochester movies now!

Eian-Gabriel Sinclair has been making 90-Second Newbery movies for years. Every season I look forward to his elaborate animations and stop-motion masterpieces. Here’s his fifth (!) movie for the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival, an adaptation of the “Garden” vignette from Arnold Lobel’s 1973 Honor Book Frog and Toad Together, in a stop-motion medieval style:

The judges said in part (complete review here): “From the very beginning this movie inspires confidence, with the beautifully drawn titles that even feature animated singing mouths . . . You can really feel the frustration of Toad as he jumps up and down, desperately sings, and flies into a tantrum when the plant won’t grow quickly enough for him. The voice acting is also amazing . . . especially the behind-the-scenes bit at the end, where Frog complains about not getting enough lines — hilarious!”

The RCTV/Writers & Books Camp has also been submitting movies for years. They create theirs in a weeklong summer camp, and not only are the movies always wonderful and idiosyncratic and creative, but everyone always looks like they’re having such a fun time. Check out their version of Kwame Alexander’s 2015 Newbery Medal winner The Crossover:

The review on the 90-Second Newbery website reads (in part), “What a brilliant idea to have this basketball story narrated by two sportscasters! I especially loved how the sportscasters love to drop groan-worthy puns and dad jokes (and how the sportscaster on the right starts to get furious about it) . . . inventive, funny, and yet accurate to the book!”

The second movie made by RCTV/Writers & Books Camp was of Elizabeth George Speare’s 1984 Honor Book The Sign of the Beaver:

As the judges said in part (full review here), “Hilarious and innovative! I love how the Matt character in the book (originally, a Colonial-era boy surviving on his own in a cabin in the wilderness), is here updated to an flashily dressed cool dude, complete with updated slang (“That is so Gucci!”) . . . Great costumes, cinematography, and editing — this movie looks great and the pacing and jokes are tight. Fantastic performances throughout.”

The third movie by the RCTV/Writers & Books Camp is based on Robin McKinley’s 1985 Medal winner The Hero and the Crown:

As the judges wrote in part (full review here), “It was an inspired choice to retell this medieval-style fantasy adventure as a western! The music, costumes, and green-screen sets all worked together splendidly to make it feel authentic . . . I loved the comical details, like the tin-can telephone connected by string, or how certain details from the book (Aerin becoming ill from eating the surka leaves) are transposed into the western idiom (our cowgirl hero becoming ill from some strong moonshine). All the performances were funny and enjoyable, and the script manages to boil down this extremely complex, weirdly structured, very long book into something digestible and understandable.”

Jefferson Avenue Elementary School in Fairport did a great twist on Louis Sachar’s 1999 Newbery Medal winner Holes. They did it in the style of soccer, and it’s called “Goals”:

As the judges said (full review here), “Weird and wonderful . . . instead of prisoners at Camp Green Lake digging holes, it’s a ragtag soccer team kicking goals. The surreal beginning, with the bizarre parents who have decided to make their child into a soccer ball (???), was satisfyingly bonkers . . . All in all, an ingenious re-imagining of the story while still keeping the basic plot. A fun and funny ride!”

The next movie is based on Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s 1992 Medal winner Shiloh, and it’s by Lily, Geoffery, Nicholas, Madison, and Kaci of Kendall Central Schools. Shiloh is one of those iconic boy-and-his-dog books. So how do these kids make their version special? It’s a brilliant move: by shooting the movie from the dog’s perspective! We overhear the Shiloh’s inner thoughts, and see everything from Shiloh’s point of view (you can even see Shiloh’s snout throughout the whole thing):

As the judges said in part (read full review here), “You really made the most of this idea, especially in the scene where Jud ‘kicks’ the dog, and everything shakes and gets woozy in a convincingly jarring way! I also thought it was inventive how you made Shiloh tremble with fear during the fight scene at night . . . Great performances from the other actors too. An ingenious idea, brilliantly implemented!”

As if to answer this boy-and-his-dog story, Rogers Middle School in Rochester did a stop-motion movie of a girl-and-her-dog story, Kate DiCamillo’s 2001 Honor Book Because of Winn-Dixie:

As the judges said in part (full review here), “The cut-paper puppets were wonderfully drawn, with lots of personality and style—and I loved the way they were animated, especially the moving lips when they are speaking! . . . I like how you used pictures from local places for your backgrounds . . . and the inventive touches like the ‘rain’ effect during the storm, or the careful details like the guitar strumming sound effect.”

I have one more movie I’d like to showcase! It’s from Leo Bernabi School, it’s another animal story—but this time it’s not about a dog, but a silverback gorilla. Yes, you guessed it, we’re talking about Katherine Applegate’s 2013 Medal winner The One and Only Ivan:

As the judges said in part (full review here), “An energetic, resourceful, and fun retelling of the story! I liked the detailed masks that you made for Ivan the gorilla, the elephants Ruby and Stella, and the dog Bob . . . There were a lot of nice touches and details, like the ‘I have an idea!’ light bulb, or how Ivan works with real paints with his finger, or the way the zookeeper smacks Ruby’s cage with his mace . . . Tells the story with style and humor!”

Thanks again for a wonderful time, Rochester! Thanks also to Heather, Steve, David, and everyone at the Rochester Museum and Science Center, as well as Hipocampo Children’s Books for doing the bookselling afterward.

Remember, it’s never too early to start working on next year’s 90-Second Newbery movie. You can turn it in any time, but the deadline will be January 15, 2021. You have nearly a year to create a real masterpiece for our 2021 screening!

By the way, if you enjoyed the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival this year, please consider kicking a few bucks our way. The 90-Second Newbery is always free to submit and to attend, but it does take money to run. And anyway, it’s tax-deductible! Our fiscal sponsor is Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization.

I’ll leave you with this. I’d be remiss if I didn’t also thank Arthur and Amy, old friends whom I stay with whenever I’m in Rochester. Their hospitality is second to none. One night we went out for sushi and ramen, and we tried to do blind contour drawing of each other’s faces. It came out kind of horrifying . . . and then we tried to contort our faces to look like the drawings . . . and I think some kind of odd synthesis was achieved:

I’m already looking forward to next year, Rochester! You are the bee’s knees.