A screening of the 90 Second Newbery Film Festival took place at the main branch of the New York Public Library on Saturday, Mar. 7, which featured 19 films, and was hosted by James Kennedy and Wolfie the Bunny author Ame Dyckman. Many of the represented filmmakers and their families were in attendance. The nationwide film festival and contest, now in its fourth year, is the brain child of author Kennedy (Order of the Odd-Fish), who solicits entries from students across the country, asking them to make their own films from start to finish that adapt a Newbery or Newbery Honor book into a 90 second movie. Kennedy then curates a selection of the best entries and takes the film festival on the road to multiple cities.
The selection of books adapted for screen was varied, from The Westing Game to Thimble Summer, Holes to The Graveyard Book, and the styles of film were diverse as well. The first film of the collection was a silent Claymation adaptation of Mr. Popper’s Penguins, complete with handpainted inter-title cards. The adaptation of The Graveyard Book featured impressive special effects, including the use of a green screen. Bud, Not Buddy was shot in sepia with special effects to make it feel like a film from the era of the Great Depression in which it is set, and the adaptation of Everything on a Waffle made creative use of formatting and interpreted the novel, which includes recipes, into a cooking show.
Kennedy remarked in between clips that entries that made clever use of genre often grabbed his attention, as evidenced with The Wild, Wild Westing Game, a Western-style version of Ellen Raskin’s 1979 medal winner. Ramona and Her Father was also adapted twice, once as a James Bond film and as a musical, including a song that parodied Pharrell’s popular song “Happy,” with the lyrics: “Clap along if you feel panicked/Because you just lost your job.” Holes was adapted into a rap, and Because of Winn-Dixie was shot entirely from the perspective of the dog, with paws and nose attached to the camera. The students not only filmed and edited these works, creating costumes and special effects themselves, but they wrote the scripts, too, to unique effect; one group adapted The Whipping Boy, writing the script entirely in interrogative sentences.
Kennedy invited some of the attending filmmakers, many of whom were 9-12 years old, to the stage to discuss their process. Kennedy asked Gillian, the filmmaker behind a stop-motion animation of The Giver made with Playmobil toys, what the most difficult part of making the film was. “Keeping the camera up,” was her response, and she described a wooden support she built herself in order to solve the problem.
Kennedy ended the screening with a reminder that entries for the fifth run of the contest are due in December, remarking that it isn’t that far away, since “it takes a long time to make a movie!” Students are encouraged to enter by December 14, 2015. More information on the contest, and examples of previous entries, can be accessed via Kennedy’s website.