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Behold the Brilliant, Bombastic BROOKLYN 2020 90-Second Newbery Film Festival!

March 15, 2020

Did you enjoy the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival? Do you want us to keep doing it? Then please help us out with a tax-deductible donation. Our fiscal sponsor is Fractured Atlas, a nonprofit arts service organization.

I’ve got to be honest—in light of the current social-distancing recommendations, I’m shy about celebrating our recent screenings of the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival, which after all brought crowds together in the past few weeks. In any case, because of coronavirus, we have of course canceled/postponed our March and April shows in Boston, Salt Lake City, Ogden UT, Orem UT, and Boulder CO. (As for the Minneapolis show, we’re going to live-stream it. Details to come.)

But let’s look back with fondness on the screenings we did pull off! Back on February 22, what seems like a lifetime ago, we did the ninth annual 90-Second Newbery Film Festival at the Brooklyn Public Library, hosted by me and Newbery Honor winner Rita Williams-Garcia (One Crazy Summer). Thanks so much for being a marvelous and funny co-host, Rita. Did you know she used to be Broadway dancer? Check out the video above—you can see she’s still got the moves. It’s our opening skit in which I’ve become a jaded old grump who has lost the Newbery spirit, and Rita helps me get it back in an accelerated parody of “A Christmas Carol.” (Thanks to Mohana and Glynnton for appearing in the skit too, you were hilarious!)

Thanks also to Brandon Graham and everyone at the Brooklyn Public Library who helped us pull this off. And of course thanks to the filmmakers, and the parents and teachers and librarians who helped them! The young filmmakers all posed onstage with Rita and me at the end of the show:

Every screening features a mix of locally-made movies and the best of the movies from across the country. Let’s check out the New York-made movies, and in particular a movie I’ve also shown across the country—of Shel Silverstein’s classic picture book The Giving Tree, adapted by Ella and Friends—

Wait a second, you say. The Giving Tree didn’t win a Newbery! And that’s true. But I’m sorry, this movie is too good to disqualify, because it really gives you a sense of how cruel that boy is, and how much the tree is suffering:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “The performances were hilarious, from the jerky little boy to the kind, put-upon, and finally furious tree. The tree costume demonstrated some resourceful craftsmanship, complete even with apples to pick . . . and the movie really starts getting funny when the boy does begin picking her apples, making her shriek ‘OW! Why does it hurt so much?!’ I enjoyed how the movie subtly snarks the logic of the plot: he could have cut down ANY tree, why HER in particular?”

But that’s not the only movie made by Ella and Friends! And this next one did win a Newbery Honor, in 1973—Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad Together. It asks the question, what if Frog were a scrunchie-wearing, “sksksksk”-whispering VSCO girl? And what if Toad were a mopey, self-pitying, all-black wearing goth?

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “Brilliant! From the very first lines (“Hey Toad, how are you?” “Miserable”) I knew this was going to be great . . . The performances were hilarious and pitched just right. I loved the details like how Frog and Toad had to look up ‘willpower’ of Frog’s phone, or how Frog in true VSCO fashion tied up the box of cookies with a scrunchie . . . This does exactly what 90-Second Newberys should do: take a well-known story and put a creative twist on it. Well-shot and great editing too.”

Every year we get a bunch of great movies from Mr. Adams’s class from the Foote School in New Haven, CT. Like this next movie, based on Neil Gaiman’s 2009 Newbery Medal Winner The Graveyard Book, adapted by Elle, Lia, and Lydia:

As the judges said on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “This movie covered an impressive amount of the plot in a very short amount of time! And there were many nice stylish touches too: good use of the doll prop for baby Bod, and the scary dark cloak costume for Silas the vampire. I also thought it was resourceful how the rocks in the field were used to represent gravestones in the scene where Scarlett meets Mr. Frost, and how the scenes in the Sleer’s lair are shot with appropriate dimness. The part where Mr. Frost draws a knife on Bod was a fun action scene too!”

How about doing your 90-Second Newbery in the style of a movie trailer? That’s what this next movie by Louis, Henry, and Amber does, based on Katherine Applegate’s 2013 Newbery Medal Winner The One and Only Ivan:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “It was resourceful to use stuffed animals to portray Ruby and Bob, and animal costumes for the other animals Ivan and Stella (and a wig for Julia!). The peppy music and intertitles explaining to plot were just enough to keep the audience’s understanding on track. Fun performances, especially Julia and the stern look on Mack’s face as he wags his finger at the camera . . . A brief and fun sprint through the story!”

Here’s another movie based on The One and Only Ivan, adapted by Conall and Dylan of Lloyd Harbor School of Huntington, NY. Check out the amazing gorilla costume:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “The performances were engaging and fun to watch, especially the cruel guy who runs the mall zoo and the way he and his minions push the animals around. The movie whips through all the major plot points but never feels rushed, with time for lots of quiet moments of the animals telling each other stories.”

We actually featured a lot movies from the Lloyd Harbor School! The next movie is of Victoria Jamieson’s 2016 Newbery Honor Book Roller Girl, adapted by Allison, Jenny, and Zoe:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “An accurate and entertaining adaptation of the book, true to its spirit! I liked the way that Astrid often addresses the viewer directly to narrate the story and keep everything clear and on track . . . The performances were enthusiastic and it looked like everyone was having a good time making this.”

The next movie from Lloyd Harbor School we featuerd was of Louis Sachar’s 1999 Newbery Medal Winner Holes, adapted by Max and Will—ingeniously, in Minecraft:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “The movie very effectively uses Minecraft to pull off shots and situations that would have been difficult is real life, like the part with the police car, or the scene in the courtroom, or how it uses an extreme wide shot to show how Stanley is lost in the desert wilderness, and then gradually zooms in on him when he digs his hole and finds his treasure . . . I like how, at the end, after he finds his treasure, Stanley hops into a car (which looks like a Tesla cybertruck?) and zooms away to enjoy his riches. Brutally abbreviated, fun to watch!”

Here’s another version of Holes from Lloyd Harbor School, adapted by Hannah, Kiersten, Molly, and Siena:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “A tight script, fun energy, and committed acting . . . I liked how the movie indicated a cave by having the characters disappear behind the gap in the green-screen curtains! The black-and-white flashback to 1878 was handled well, and I loved the infectious goofy spirit that fills this movie, culminating in the wonderful ‘The Curse Is Broken’ song and dance at the end.”

I love it when homeschoolers get in on the act. Especially when the movie is itself about homeschoolers! The next movie is of Stephanie S. Tolan’s 2003 Newbery Honor Book Surviving the Applewhites, adapted by Brooklyn Apple Academy in collaboration with Cottonwood ALC. Stick around for the rousing ‘Sound of Music’ singalong at the end, complete with blorping tuba:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “It was a clever and resourceful idea to transpose the rural ‘Creative Academy; of the book to the urban setting of Brooklyn . . . I appreciated how this movie took the time to get the details right, like Jake’s punk haircut . . . The arson scenes were creatively handled, burning a cardboard building gets the idea across quite well! . . . Entertaining, never a dull moment!”

Jillian and Joseph Parrino have been making marvelous 90-Second Newbery movies ever since 2014 (you can check them all out here). I always love their creative twists on the stories, like this next one, their adaptation of Richard Peck’s 1999 Newbery Honor Book A Long Way from Chicago:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “This was a funny, clever movie that sneakily also managed to summarize a lot of the book without breaking a sweat! The format of having a the grandchildren directly address the viewer to describe the Grandma Dowdel, complete with pictures and video, was inspired. The brisk peppy music, crisp editing, and tight script kept everything moving quickly . . . This is what a 90-Second Newbery should be: a simple idea, executed with craft and humor, that gets across the story and is funny and interesting and comprehensible even if you haven’t read the book.”

The final local movie we featured is another one, like The Giving Tree, that didn’t actually win a Newbery—although it was written by a Newbery Honor winning author, Gennifer Choldenko. It’s the picture book Dad and the Dinosaur, adapted by Glynnton Buckley (who was in the opening skit with his sister Mohana, herself a 90-Second Newbery moviemaker):

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery blog (full review here), “I liked how this movie echoed some parts of the picture book exactly: for example, opening with the main character Nick’s foot on a soccer ball. We jump right into the story, quickly describing Nick’s fears at the beginning (while showing some of those things he feared), and demonstrating his father’s lack of fear by having the man not flinch at all even when a snake is slithering on him! There was good visual storytelling when showing how brave Nick is when he has the dinosaur (like riding a bike through a puddle or scaling a climbing wall). The movie told the story efficiently and with style.”

. . . And those were the local entries for the 2020 Brooklyn 90-Second Newbery Film Festival! Thanks so much to Brandon Graham and everyone at the Brooklyn Public Library for helping me to put this on. And the biggest thanks of all to the young filmmakers, and their parents, teachers, librarians, and others who helped them make these movies. I’m already looking forward to seeing what you make next year—and it’s not too early to start making your movies now! You can find lots of help at the 90-Second Newbery website, especially screenwriting, cinematography, and editing help at our Video Resources page.

Oh, and if you like what we’re doing here, and want to see it continue into next year, please donate to the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival. It’s tax-deductible. Our fiscal sponsor is Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization.

See you next year!