The 90-Second Newbery Film Festival

By: Ragan O’Malley and Hannah Mermelstein
Saint Ann’s SchoolIMG_6774

On Saturday, March 30, a contingent of Saint Ann’s students and their families, along with two Saint Ann’s librarians, attended the 2019 90-Second Newbery Film Festival at the Brooklyn Public Library. The festival was started by James Kennedy, author of The Order of Odd-Fish, to celebrate the art of amateur filmmaking and Newbery books. Children are challenged to condense the plot/essence of an entire Newbery Medal or Honor book into approximately 90 seconds. Humor and unique interpretations are encouraged.So, why were we there? Because of this and this.

Saint Ann’s generally offers a library summer program for one or two weeks after school officially ends in June. In 2018, the theme of one week of our camp was the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival. Specifically, creating films about the 2012 Newbery Honor book Breaking Stalin’s Nose by Eugene Yelchin. We librarians picked the book in advance (and bought a copy for each student) so that kids would have time to read it before camp started and we could dive right into the filmmaking. We had no prior filmmaking experience and knew it would be difficult to create films in just one week, so we wanted to be as prepared as possible! We picked Breaking Stalin’s Nose because it’s a short and easy-to-read, yet substantive, book that we thought might have fewer submissions to the festival than, say, A Wrinkle in Time. Plus, we have two Russian-speaking teachers at Saint Ann’s who agreed to give us short lessons!

To structure our weeklong program we used some of the curriculum suggestions from Kennedy’s robust video resources guide on the festival’s website. Students played different roles depending on their interests, from writing to acting to directing to set design to selecting music and more. Four high school counselors helped us wrangle students and edit films in WeVideo, an online platform somewhat similar to iMovie but more conducive to group work. We had 18 students, so we split into two groups, one with our older kids (going into 5th-7th grades) and one with the younger kids (going into 4th grade). There were many moments of chaos and questioning our decision to embark on this project, but it was also incredibly fun and creative, and ultimately led to the inclusion of BOTH of ourfilms in the Brooklyn 90-Second Newbery Film IMG_6784Festival!

On the Friday before the festival, we invited James to present to a group of students that included last summer’s filmmakers and this year’s Mock Newbery Committee. He showed some of his favorite films from past years and gave us some filmmaking tips for the future. Saturday’s festival began with a hilarious skit that one of our 4th graders participated in (she got to hit James Kennedy with a sword), and was co-hosted by James Kennedy and Brooklyn’s own Torrey Maldonado (author of Tight). It was awesome to see our films on the big screen!

We’re happy to share more information with anyone who’s interested in trying this in their library.

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