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The Order of Oddfish


90-Second Newbery Film Festival 2023: SAN ANTONIO!

May 10, 2023

The 2023 run of the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival had its triumphant conclusion in San Antonio! Check out the amazing three-minute video above, made by Galaxy Productions, to really get a flavor of the day.

HUNDREDS of people showed up for our final screening of our 12th season, an outdoor event at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts right on San Antonio’s beautiful River Walk. Thanks to Texas’s own Nikki Loftin (author of Wish Girl, Nightingale’s Nest, and the upcoming picture book If You Get Lost) for her star turn as my co-host. The video below is our song-and-dance opening skit about book banning. (Spoiler: we’re against it!)

Did I mention the size of the crowd that came out for the show? In true Texas style, San Antonio is our biggest show every year:

We run the 90-Second Newbery a little bit differently in Texas. Working with our partners at BiblioTech and through the generosity of H-E-B Read 3, the San Antonio 90-Second Newbery presents various awards for Texas-made movies, and filmmakers can win big cash prizes for their school! (Thanks also to Bexar County Judge Peter Sakai for getting behind the film festival; he did a funny and supportive speech at the top of the show.)

It was a great time. The Twig Book Shop was there to sell Newbery-winning books (and, um, my and Nikki’s books), there was a red carpet where kids could do photo ops with H-E-B’s mascots, there was free popcorn, there were medals and trophies and giant checks for the winners, the weather was perfect, and it was just an all-around splendid day for a film festival. Thanks especially to Christa Aldrich and everyone at H-E-B, and Laura Cole, Carlos Sauceda, and everyone at BiblioTech for making this day possible.

Throughout the show, Nikki and I handed out awards for categories like “Best Cinematography” and “Best Costumes,” interspersed with showing the Texas-made movies that were nominated for “Best Picture” in both the Elementary School level and the Middle School/High School level.

Speaking of those movies . . . let’s check ’em out!

Second and third graders Ania, Evelynn, Jasmine, and Iliana of Foster Elementary GT won Best Storytelling (Elementary School) for their adaptation of William Steig’s 1983 Newbery Honor Book Doctor DeSoto. It’s a picture book about a mouse dentist and his mouse wife who decide to take care of a dangerous fox with a toothache, even though there’s a risk the fox might eat them. But the DeSotos have a plan to keep themselves safe from the fox. This movie is done in stop-motion Legos . . . and in this version, the plan doesn’t quite work the way the mice expected!

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery website (full review here): “I loved the colorful, fun-to-watch, detailed stop-motion work here! The Lego structures, clay fox, and hand-drawn signs made gave a whimsical look to the movie—especially since the mice dentists were here played by Minions . . . But best of all, I was amused at how the ending here is different than in the book—the Desoto’s plan doesn’t work, and they get devoured by the fox!”

Josiah, Damian, Juliette, Jayden, Elijah, Madison, Brandon, Bella, Jessica, and Justin of Neil Armstrong Elementary adapted Cece Bell’s 2015 Honor Book El Deafo. In that book, a girl Cece falls ill with meningitis, which causes her to become deaf, and we see how she adjusts to her new life. Cece doesn’t like her hearing aid at first, but she decorates it to make it more her own. Cece makes friends, has crushes, and eventually finds confidence through a superhero identity she creates for herself: “El Deafo.”

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery website (full review here), “I appreciated the attention to detail with the green screen backgrounds and costumes (the doctor’s white coat and stethoscope, the hearing devices for Cece and her classmates). The occasional dramatic music was effective, especially the ‘power-up’ tune that plays when Cece turns into a superhero . . . resourceful and creative!”

This next movie won awards for both Runner Up for Best Picture (Elementary School) and Best Storytelling (Elementary School)! It’s by Christian, Isaac, Maximus, Rodolfo, and Brandon of Leadership Academy at Salado Elementary, and it’s based on Brian Paulsen’s 1987 Honor Book Hatchet. The book is about a boy Brian who is the sole survivor of a plane crash after the pilot has a heart attack. Brian must survive in the wilderness alone with only the hatchet that his mother gave him. This movie combines hand-drawn illustrations (some of them animated in stop-motion) and expressive, energetic voiceover to tell the story.

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery website (full review here), “This movie used an excellent combination of hand-drawn illustrations (some of them animated in stop-motion) and expressive, energetic voiceover to tell the story! I loved the attention to detail in the drawings, and the dramatic gusto with which the actors tackled their roles.”

The next movie is based on Kwame Alexander’s 2015 Medal Winner The Crossover, and it’s by Rocco and Ahmet of Colony Meadows Elementary. The book is about two brothers who love to play basketball. When they have a disagreement over a girl, one brother deliberately throws the ball in the face of the other and breaks his nose, which gets him suspended from the team. Meanwhile their dad, a former basketball star himself, gets sick and collapses on the court. In this movie, I was particularly impressed at how one of these young actors played basketball with his arm in a cast!

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery website (full review here), “This is a pretty hilarious abbreviation of the story . . . the two actors displayed real basketball skills . . . both brothers and the mother and father turned in fantastic performances here . . . Fast, entertaining, and true to the broad outlines of the story.”

The awards for both Best Picture (Elementary School) and Best Cinematography (Elementary School) went to Jolene, Emery, Jackie, Catalina, and Kevin of Mission Academy GT, for their movie based on Kelly Barnhill’s 2017 Medal Winner The Girl Who Drank the Moon. The story is a fantasy about a village where every year, the people must leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. But it turns out the witch is good! She rescues the abandoned babies, and delivers them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing them with starlight along the way. When baby Luna is left in the forest, the witch accidentally feeds her moonlight, and Luna gains magic powers. So the witch must raise Luna. Meanwhile Antain, a young father from the village, ventures into the forest to kill the witch he believes is terrorizing his people. Can Luna save her witch mother and teach the village the truth?

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery website (full review here), “It was a fun dramatic choice to tell the story of the book in the style of a movie trailer, with intertitles explaining most of the plot while potentuous music plays and the actors perform the various scenes.”

The awards for Honorable Mention for Best Picture (Elementary School), Best Cinematography (Elementary School) and Best Costumes (Elementary School) went to Thomas, Holden, Tiago, and John of Shanklin Elementary in Luling for their movie based on Louis Sachar’s 1999 Medal Winner Holes. The book is about Stanley Yelnats, a boy who is falsely arrested for stealing the shoes that fall on his head one day. Instead of jail, he is sent to Camp Green Lake, where the warden makes boys dig holes all day. At the camp, Stanley befriends another boy named Zero. They escape the prison and run away to the desert, where Stanley and Zero dig up the treasure the warden had been searching for, which it turns out, rightfully belongs to Stanley and Zero because of a long-ago curse that involved both their ancestors!

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery website (full review here), “This movie did a good job sprinting through the complicated plot of the book, managing to intertwine the modern-tale situation of Stanley and Zero with their history with his great-grandfather and Madame Zeroni in a way that made sense . . . Fun to watch, with good performances by all the actors too.”

The next movie is based on Marion Dane Bauer’s 1987 Newbery Honor Book On My Honor, and it’s adapted by Rahul and friends of Colony Meadows Elementary. When Joel and Tony go out to play, Joel’s father forbids him to go anywhere beyond the bike path. Joel promises he won’t, “On my honor.” But when Tony dares Joel to climb a large and dangerous cliff, Joel does it. Not to be outdone, Joel suggests a swimming race, but then Tony drowns. Joel comes home and at first doesn’t tell anyone what happened, but finally confesses.

As the judges say in part on the 90-Second Newbery website (full review here), “This movie dramatized the story quickly, accurately, and with flair! The best thing about it was the performances, especially how the same actor played both Joel and Tony using camera trickery and deft editing—very expressive and earnest, and really made the two characters seem like two different people.”

Veer from Colony Meadows Elementary won a Special Achievement Award for Best Use of Minecraft for this adaptation of Lawrence Yep’s 1976 Honor Book Dragonwings. Set at the turn of the 20th century, it’s about Moon Shadow, a boy who grew up in China who had never seen his father Windrider, because he’d traveled to America to work in a family laundry. Soon Moon Shadow himself goes to America with his relative Hand Clap, and meets his kite-making father who dreams of making his own plane.

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery website, (full review here), “This was brilliant use of Minecraft to tell the story. I appreciated that you used Minecraft like a filmmaker, carefully framing the shots and editing between them in a cinematic way, rather than just making the audience sit through a chaotic Minecraft session . . . and the flying scene was truly spectacular!”

The awards for Best Picture (Middle School/High School), Best Cinematography (Middle School/High School), and Best Storytelling (Middle School/High School) went to Juarez from the Advanced Learning Academy, for a movie based on Donna Barba Higuera’s 2022 Newbery Medal Winner The Last Cuentista. It’s a sci-fi dystopia about how the Earth is doomed to destruction by a comet. Petra and her parents are selected for some of the few spots on one of the spaceships evacuating Earth to head to a distant planet, but she is hesitant to leave her grandmother. Along the way and on this new planet Petra must fight to preserve the stories of what humanity used to be on Earth.

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery website, (full review here), “Fantastic cinematography and editing really made this movie stand out! You know this one is going to be outstanding from the very beginning, with the arty opening shot that pans down from the starry night sky to the campfire . . . The script adroitly gets the heart of the plot across, so when it turns into a glitchy dream-vision that seems to resolve itself on another planet, the audience is at first intrigued and mystified, but then undergoes a catharsis along with Petra (and that tear on Petra’s face near the end was masterful!).”

The winner for Best Animation (Middle School/High School) is this adaptation of Lois Lowry’s 1994 Medal Winner The Giver by William, Alexander, Jayden, and Aiden of the JSTEM Academy in Converse. The Giver is another dystopia, this time about a future community in which there is no war, no pain, and no conflict—but also no color, no emotion, no weather, and your job is picked for you. At the Ceremony Of Twelve, teenaged Jonas is chosen for a special job: to be the “Receiver of Memory.” Jonas must spend time with the Giver, an old man who gives Jonas all the memories from before everything became safe and boring—including seeing color and feeling pain. But Jonas also learns what it means when people are “released” from the community—they are killed! When Jonas discovers his baby brother Gabe is going to be “released” by his own father, Jonas kidnaps the baby and tries to escape the community. Can he make it?

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery website (full review here), “I loved the breakneck pace and snarky tone of this Minecraft version of The Giver . . . It was also a good idea for the narration to be shared by various voices, especially since the script was genuinely funny (‘Bonus! Ultra! Deluxe! HD Remastered! 4K!’) with the occasional inclusion of meme lore (‘Unregistered HyperCam 2’) . . . Well done!”

The award for Best Picture Runner Up (Middle School/High School) went to the students of Joel C. Harris Middle School for their adaptation of Katherine Paterson’s 1978 Medal Winner A Bridge to Terabithia. It starts when Jess meets Leslie, the new girl in town—or in this movie, “Juanita”—who everyone thinks is weird because her family doesn’t watch television. Together Jess and Leslie create an imaginary land in the woods they call Terabithia, which they access by swinging across a river on a rope. In the original book, Leslie visits Terabithia and accidentally drowns in the river when the swinging rope breaks, and Jess must deal with his grief over losing her.

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery website, (full review here), “I was intrigued by this very odd and possibly ominous version of Bride to Terabithia: a version in which Leslie (or here, ‘Juanita’) does not die . . . and indeed, we never see the titular bridge! . . . The thing that makes this movie stand out is the excellent cinematography and editing. The various songs also served well to highlight the intended mood of each scene . . . Good, believable acting throughout as well!”

The next movie is another adaptation of Lois Lowry’s 1994 Medal Winner The Giver, and it’s by Jayden, Isaiah, Kaylin, and Izzac of JSTEM Academy:

As the judges said in part on the 90-Second Newbery website (full review here), “This was swift, goofy, and fun to watch! The combination of dialogue and voiceover worked well to tell the story . . . Rough-hewn and daffy but with lots of charm and personality!”

The awards for both Honorable Mention For Best Picture (Middle School/High School) and Best Costumes (Middle School/High School) went to Alani, Alisha, Cecilia, Anna, Kiera, and Lilith of the Young Women’s Leadership Academy for their movie of Nancy Farmer’s 2003 Newbery Honor Book The House of the Scorpion. It’s a science fiction novel about a young man, Matt, who is a young clone of a 140-year old drug lord El Patron. Matt realizes he is one of many clones being raised just to provide body parts for the El Patron. Through poisonings, intrigue, and adventure, Matt overthrows El Patron.

As the judges wrote in part on the 90-Second Newbery website (full review here), “It was fun to watch how the cast threw themselves into the roles, especially the character all in black who was mourning extremely loudly and dramatically . . . The various elaborate costumes were resourceful and helped to keep the various characters straight in my head . . . a lot of fun to watch because it was made with such enthusiasm and gusto.”

And those are the movies we showed at San Antonio’s 2023 90-Second Newbery Film Festival! Some award winners that we did not have time to screen at the live film festival, but are very much worth checking out:

Best Sound (Elementary School): Charlotte’s Web by Sophie Y. of Colony Meadows Elementary

Best Sound (Middle School/High School): The Giver by Frankie, Jonathan, and Diego of JSTEM Academy

Best Visual Effects (Elementary School): Doll Bones by Jessa, Santiago, Stephanie, Alena, Abigail, Pau, Jaelyn, Justin, and Jasleen of Kindred Elementary

Best Visual Effects (Middle School/High School): When You Reach Me by Wednesday, Roman, Eddie, Jadyn, D.J., Z’Kiaya, Giovanni, James and Mario of Hot Wells Middle School

Best Adaptation (Elementary School): Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Safia of Colony Meadows Elementary

Best Adaptation (Middle School/High School): The Wednesday Wars by Carissa, Sophia, Benjamin, Alejandra, Braulio, Hannah, Reese, Madison, Mateo, Joaquin, and Samantha of Uvalde Dual Language Academy

Best Animation (Elementary School): Millions Of Cats by Sophia, Grimmsin, and Matthew of Forbes Elementary GT

Special Achievement Award (Dual Language): El Deafo by Benavidez Elementary GT

Special Achievement Award (Set Design): The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Shanklin Elementary GT of Luling

Special Achievement Award (Special Effects): Doll Bones by Miguel Carrillo Elementary

Thanks so much, San Antonio! 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.