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The Order of Oddfish


90-Second Newbery Film Festival: Tacoma 2014!

The Tacoma Public Library really pulled out all the stops for the March 1 screening, as you can see in their video above. We packed the house! The library actually provided popcorn, rolled out a red carpet with paparazzi for the filmmakers . . . and I kid you not, even crafted custom Oscar-like 90-Second Newbery statuettes for each filmmaker, laser-cut from wood at the library’s Maker Lab!

Here I am with co-presenter Catalyst and co-host “Sir Douglas” (playing the role of “England’s foremost John Newbery expert”), holding those ingenious trophies (which also smelled awesome, like a campfire):

I received lots of great 90-Second Newbery videos from Tacoma because of librarian Sara Sunshine Holloway, who brilliantly integrated 90-Second Newbery moviemaking seminars into the library’s yearlong programming. Thanks, Sara!

Here is Sara (she’s the redhead in sunglasses) with some of the young filmmakers whose movies were shown at the Tacoma screening. And after these pictures, let’s check out the great movies that came from Tacoma this year!

So, how about the movies I received from Tacoma in 2014? Let’s check them out!

Last year, Max Lau and Jennings Mergenthal of Jalix Mergenberg did a hysterical animated-clay version of the very first Newbery Medal Winner, Hendrik Willem van Loon’s The Story of Mankind. Could they top it?

YUP. Max and Jennings return in triumphant form this year with another animated-clay adaptation of a nonfiction Newbery winner, this time of Jim Murphy’s 2004 Honor Book An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793. Must be seen to be believed—not only hilarious, but you might learn something too:

That’s lots of death for a Newbery book! But in fact the Newbery is no stranger to death. Judging by body count alone, one of the most violent books of all time is actually a Newbery book: Wanda Gag’s 1929 Honor Book Millions of Cats, in which “hundreds, thousands, millions and billions and trillions” of cats tear each other to pieces in a disagreement over who is the “prettiest.”

This “classic” (?) was done in appropriately irreverent style by two different groups from Tacoma: first, in the style of an olde-tymey movie, by Elliott and Jen at On The Fly Video Productions:

And here’s another take on Millions of Cats, but this time done in Minecraft by Story Lab Tacoma:

Not every movie featured in the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival actually, er, won a Newbery. Jackson Sledge and his friends at Studio Something did this great adaptation of Wilson Rawls’ 1961 novel Where The Red Fern Grows. Did it win a Newbery Medal? Uh, no. A Newbery Honor? Er . . . not that, either. But no matter! Jackson’s movie is so good that I decided to bend the rules and let it in (and keep your ears open for its sneaky inclusion of the famous Wilhelm scream):

Great script and performances, and I also snorted with laughter at the bit where the dad says, “Women are different, they worry more,” right before he flips around a shotgun and trick-fires it! And the look of delight on the kid’s face is the perfect cut. Another funny part: seeing the gravestone for one of the dogs, the mom saying “you still have Little Ann,” and then cutting to Little Ann’s gravestone with an ominous toll of the bell. Classic!

Next up is Katherine Paterson’s 1978 Medal Winner Bridge to Terabithia, as adapted by Duncan Killion in the style of a silent black and white movie:

So melancholy! And very skillfully told the story with almost no words, hitting all the major plot points: the race at the beginning, the growing friendship, the introduction of the fantasy world (swordfighting with sticks), and the fateful trip to the museum. The grief was particularly well-handled. And great music choice!

Moving on, we have Richard Peck’s 1999 Honor Book A Long Way From Chicago as adapted by Rosemary and Lula:

It’s effective and slightly terrifying that, as the viewer, we never actually see the grandmother’s face. Whoever played the old lady at the beginning and at the middle was clearly having a ball—I love how she seemed to become more and more unhinged as the movie went on, with her babushka or whatever coming loose and her voice growing more energetic. A funny script too—I liked the delivery of the lines, “We have a grandma?” and “What is she like?” followed by “You don’t really want to know.” (And what’s up with that “oh… grandma” at the end with the coughing . . . rather mysterious!)

Next up is Lois Lowry’s 1995 Medal winner The Giver as adapted by Connor O’Boyle:

Excellent! The voiceover at the beginning efficiently sets up the world. The scene where Jonas is entering the Giver’s house is very well shot—all those odd angles on him, making us feel uneasy. The guy who played the Giver is super creepy, too! That was a nice touch how it turned from black and white to color during the Christmas memory. This movie even handled the baby-murder scene in a tasteful way! (Did you know that almost everyone who does The Giver for the 90-Second Newbery LOVES to linger on that grisly scene? Check out this supercut of all the Giver 90-Second Newbery infanticide scenes I’ve received. Yuck!)

The conclusion was hilariously cursory, and totally in the spirit of the 90-Second Newbery. “You have to go and save yourself from this nightmare of a society! Leave at once!” Mumble: “Okay.” ROLL CREDITS!

Next up is Gary Paulsen’s 1988 Honor Book Hatchet, as adapted by Jeremy Keister:

Very resourceful and effective to use the model plane flying over the grass for the beginning. (I liked the crash, too.) The intertitles told the story well, and that was a good choice for a book that has so little dialogue. Good use of locations, too, with the cave and the river and the trees!

Next up is Eleanor Estes’ 1945 Honor Book The Hundred Dresses as adapted by Sophia, Tara, Vivian, and Maddie of Geiger Elementary:

A splendid job, from the succinct script to the convincing performances to the great artwork! Our second-to-last movie from Tacoma is of Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s 1992 Medal winner Shiloh as adapted by “AA, GG, and JJ” of Geiger Elementary:

I love the way the girls can’t contain their emotion when they hear about the painful trials Shiloh endures in the story . . .

Now, at the end of the March 1 screening, we were suddenly alerted that . . . there was one movie hadn’t been shown! What’s more, the family who made it was in attendance! Somehow the email didn’t get to me, and I didn’t know the movie existed. Luckily, we were able to pull it up at the last minute, and the day was saved! And good thing, too: this is a wonderful adaptation of Patricia MacLachlan’s 1986 Medal winner Sarah, Plain and Tall, as adapted by Raegan. I’m glad we didn’t miss it:

A cute and deft summary of the book!

Thanks again, everyone in Tacoma, for a smashing film festival. I had a great time! I’m looking forward to next year already. Get cracking on those movies!