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The Order of Oddfish


90-Second Newbery Film Festival 2023: BROOKLYN!

April 19, 2023

Do you like what we do at the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival? You can keep us going with a tax-deductible donation here. Donations are handled through our fiscal sponsor Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization.

It’s been two whole years, but on Saturday, April 15 the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival returned to the Brooklyn Public Library! I had been been doing the 90-Second Newbery at the BPL’s Dweck Auditorium for years before the pandemic, and I was thrilled to return. Brooklyn always attracts our film festival’s most raucous, fun, and responsive crowds. Part of it is the room itself (with its low ceilings and 190-seat capacity, it has a comedy-club intimacy). But really, it’s because of the audience. The young filmmakers and their friends and families, plus the weirdos who love these kid-made movies, always make for a boisterous crowd!

My co-host for Saturday’s Brooklyn show (and Sunday’s show in Trenton, New Jersey) was the legendary Chris Grabenstein, the author of dozens of kids’ books, including the glorious Mr. Lemoncello’s Library series and the Smartest Kid in the World series. Chris is a true showman, and he has the history of hamming it up onstage—in the 80s, before he became a prolific and beloved kids’ author, he was in an improv troupe with Bruce Willis and rubbed elbows with the likes of Robin Williams and Chicago comedy wizard Del Close. So of course Chris absolutely killed the opening skit (though nobody videoed it; still, you can see a version of it with me and Keir Graff in this video here.)

I had an amazing surprise at the end of the show: Newbery Honoree Rita Williams-Garcia burst onstage and bellowed, “Get on your knees, James Kennedy!” Now I’ve hosted the 90-Second Newbery with Rita before and I count her as a friend, so of course I complied. And then Rita put this fancy sash THAT SHE HAD MADE on my shoulders and dubbed me as a “Knight of The Order of Odd-Fish” for my work with the film festival. This meant so much to me—Rita is a warm, giving, and funny person and an iconic writer. Her 2011 Honor Book One Crazy Summer is a must-read, and I had the pleasure of reading her latest blockbuster A Sitting in St. James in manuscript and I knew it would be huge. Thank you Rita!

Let’s get to the movies! One of the first movies we showed on Saturday was Daniel and Micaela’s adaptation of E.B. White’s 1953 Honor Book Charlotte’s Web:

Solid, enjoyable, and entertaining! It was clever how this movie used clips of the actual animated Charlotte’s Web movie for the Charlotte parts, and I was impressed at how the two performers ably performed multiple roles. Read the judges’ complete review here. (And thanks to Daniel for helping out in the opening skit on Saturday.)

Next up, New York’s own Addison Steen adapted Kate DiCamillo’s 2014 Newbery Medal Winner Flora and Ulysses:

Since Flora & Ulysses is about superheroes and comic books, it was an inspired idea to use the “comic book” video filter and comic book-panel transitions to carry that visual theme through the movie. Addison is charismatic and engaging enough to pull this off as mostly a one-person show (with some help from offscreen actors), accomplished resourcefully with clever editing—which makes sense, because Addison says she wants to be a film editor one day, and you can see her other videos here. The complete judges’ review of this movie can be found here.

We received twenty-one movies from Lloyd Harbor School in Huntington, NY. They’re all great, and you can watch them all here, but here are the five that we featured at the screening.

Claire and her friends adapted Kimberly Brubaker Bradley’s 2016 Newbery Honor Book The War That Saved My Life:

I loved the enthusiastic and engaging performances, such as the mom reveling in her over-the-top cruelty, Mrs. Smith’s wig and glasses and ornery attitude, Ada’s commitment to portraying the club foot, and more! You can read the judges’ complete comments here.

Harry, Luke, Matthew, Max, and Wade made a movie of Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s 1992 Newbery Medal Winner Shiloh:

It was an effective idea to tell the story as an interview with the main character Marty, interspersed with significant scenes from the story. There were so many fun touches, like the portrayal of Jud: always in villainous sunglasses, always hilariously zooming into the scene on his car. The portrayal of animals was consistently funny too, especially when the “slain” deer hops in Jud’s car. Read the judges’ complete comments here.

Catherine, Elle, and Sofia adapted Eleanor Estes’ 1945 Newbery Honor Book The Hundred Dresses:

This movie transforms the story into a full-on musical! There was a great dancing and even the occasional acrobatic tricks, and I liked the running “hashtag” joke (“hashtag settling down!” “hashtag late for school!”). I was particularly impressed by the split screen between Maddie and Peggy on one side, and Wanda on the other side, with both sides singing at once, Les Miserables-style. Read the judges’ complete review here.

Milena and Ronin’s adapted Matt de la Pena’s 2016 Medal Winner Last Stop of Market Street:

Finally, a movie of Last Stop On Market Street that accurately depicts the true relationship between Nana and CJ: Nana is a pushy, condescending know-it-all, and CJ is an unbearable brat! The script and performances were humorously contentious, with fantastic performances of both Nana and CJ. Read the judges’ complete comments here.

Griffin and Jasper made their movie based on the short story “Shiver” from Arnold Lobel’s Days With Frog and Toad—which isn’t the 1973 Newbery Honor Book Frog and Toad Together, but we’ll let that go!

I loved the pencil drawing style, which accurately reproduces the original drawings from the book, but then transforms into its own horrifying vibe! The monster drawn in this story, with its queasily long tongue and rows of sharp teeth, is much more threatening than the Old Dark Frog of the original story. The voiceover work was funny and expressive, with emotionally believable acting. You can read the judges’ complete comments here.

And those were the New York entries for the 2023 Brooklyn 90-Second Newbery Film Festival! (We showed a lot of other movies too, from across the country.) Thanks to Brandon Graham, Coleman, Peter, and Sam at the Brooklyn Public Library for hosting us, and thanks again to my co-host Chris Grabenstein and special guest Rita Williams-Garcia . . . and of course, big props to the young filmmakers . . . and the teachers, librarians, and families who helped them!

Why not start making movies for NEXT year’s 90-Second Newbery? They’re due January 2024, but you can turn them in anytime. See you next year, Brooklyn!

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.