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The Order of Oddfish


90-Second Newbery Film Festival 2023: BOSTON!

April 1, 2023

On March 25, 2023 the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival finally returned to Boston! Since the pandemic hit in 2020, we hadn’t done a Boston screening since 2019. It was great to be back at the beautiful Boston Public Library in Copley Square. Thanks to the BPL’s Laura Koenig for keeping our event alive, to Kate Gilbert for starting the ball rolling in the first place, and to Rebecca Mahoney for co-hosting with me!

Wait, what?! Yep, that’s beloved author Rebecca Mahoney of the excellent YA novel The Valley and the Flood and the brand-new, just-published The Memory Eater. If you want to see Rebecca and me singing, dancing, and cracking wise, check out the video above, in which we revise the “Marge vs. the Monorail” episode of The Simpsons to address the book-banning nonsense that’s going around lately.

And of course, thanks to the audience who came out . . . and most of all, the young filmmakers! I had also invited some of the filmmakers whose movies never got a proper live screening because of the pandemic. It was fun to see their older selves after only knowing them through movies they made years ago!

And how about those movies? Let’s check them out! The Benali family of Holliston, MA (full disclosure: I went to college with their mom, Jocelyn) adapted Isaac Bashevis Singer’s 1967 Honor Book Zlateh The Goat and Other Stories. It’s about a poor man whose goat, Zlateh, has grown old and can’t produce milk anymore. The town butcher offers to buy Zlateh to slaughter her for the meat. The poor man doesn’t want to part with Zlateh, but he needs the money, so he sends his son to town to sell the goat. Along the way there’s a blizzard, and the son and the goat seek shelter in a haystack and are trapped. But Zlateh eats the hay, and the son survives by drinking the milk Zlateh makes. The son and the goat become good friends, and he doesn’t have the heart to sell her! (And in this movie, the goat doesn’t want to cooperate with the plot.)

I especially liked the maniacal guy with the knife who is waiting to slaughter and eat the goat (”I’ve been waiting … THREE MINUTES!”). Check out the judges’ complete comments about the movie here.

Ira Bagga of Lexington made this great movie of Ellen Raskin’s 1979 Medal Winner The Westing Game. This is a super-complicated book and it’s hard to sum up in 90 seconds, which makes this movie even more impressive. It’s told as one-person show, with great homemade art!

Smart, stylish, and concise, with beautiful color illustrations! You can see what the judges had to say about Ira’s movie here.

Emma, Ben, Tess, and Andrew (with help from Tom, John, Laura and Amy) adapted E.L. Konigsburg’s 1968 Medal Winner From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. The book is narrated by the mysterious Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, who is telling the story to her lawyer Saxonberg. This movie follows the same strategy, with fantastic performances not only of Claudia and Jamie, but also the kids playing the old lady Frankweiler and the middle-aged Saxonberg!

I was impressed at the on-point cinematography and brisk editing, as well as the convincing performances! The judges posted their complete review here.

The year before that, the same group did an adaptation of Matt de la Pena’s 2016 Medal Winner Last Stop on Market Street. This movie makes resourceful use of a jungle gym in place of a bus. Emma, Julia, Ben, Tom, Amy, and Henry—take it away!

I liked that this group took the trouble to procure a real dog and a real guitar for the movie (complete with guitar player). But the best part was the stunning next-to-last shot, overlooking the vista of the city as Nana and C.J. head down the stairs! The judges give their complete verdict here.

And those were the local entries for the 2023 Boston 90-Second Newbery Film Festival! (We showed a lot of other movies too, from across the country.) Thanks again to Laura Koenig and everyone at the Boston Public Library for hosting us, my co-host Rebecca Mahoney for indulging my silliness, Trident Booksellers and Cafe for selling books, Morton White (via Steve White and Kate Gilbert) for the last-minute loan of a cane . . . and most of all, the young filmmakers and the teachers, librarians, and families who helped them! And it’s never to early to start making your movies for next year’s screening. They’re due January 2024, but you can turn them in anytime. See you next year!

The 90-Second Newbery relies on private donations and grants to keep going. It’s only through your generosity that we can continue bringing public screenings and book-to-movie workshops to libraries and schools nationwide. You can make your (tax-deductible!) donation here. Donations are handled through our fiscal sponsor Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization.