90-Second Newbery Revisited

Leslie Hawkins -- January 9th, 2017

[Today’s post is brought to you by Leslie Hawkins, owner of Spellbound Children’s Bookshop in Asheville NC. And the letter Y.]

Last night, film fans around the world had their eyes glued to the 74th Annual Golden Globe Awards ceremony and the red carpet hoopla beforehand. Today, I’d like to turn our collective kid-lit-loving attention to another exciting film event: the Sixth Annual 90-Second Newbery Film Festival.

A few years ago, Elizabeth Bluemle interviewed the festival’s founder, author James Kennedy.  (You can read that wonderful post about the festival’s origins here.)  I’m revisiting the topic in this, my first post for ShelfTalker, because I’ve had the great pleasure of being part of a community effort to bring an official 90-Second Newbery Film Festival screening to Asheville, N.C., for the first time. That’s right—we’re going to have a glamorous red carpet event of our own, Asheville Kid Style!

On the film set of THE HUNDRED DRESSES,

The way it all came together is a perfect example of how bookstores and libraries are part of the fabric of our communities because of the connections we naturally make as we’re doing our jobs.

My first contact about the newly proposed Asheville 90-Second Newbery screening came from a casual conversation with Jesse, Youth Services Librarian at our public library. She was at my bookstore, shopping for the library, when she mentioned that someone had approached her about getting involved with 90-Second Newbery. She had volunteered the library’s 150-seat auditorium for the screening and suggested that he get in touch with me. That someone turned out to be Elliot Weiner, new to town and now Program Director for our film festival.

After chatting with Elliot, I was happy to find ways that I could help, including sharing my bookstore’s local press contact list and promoting the festival in store and through our customer mailing list. I also put Elliot in touch with local filmmaker Charlotte Taylor, co-founder of Mechanical Eye Microcinema. (How did I know her? She was in a book club at my bookstore!)  They were able to collaborate on free workshops for kids interested in making films.

I asked Elliot to tell me a little more about the process from his point of view.

There are currently only a handful of screenings around the country. Tell us how you went about bringing one to Asheville.

I learned of the 90-Second Newbery when I lived in Tacoma and worked with some kids’ groups there to create a few films. After moving here, I wondered why a creative place like Asheville didn’t have the Festival. I contacted James Kennedy, the founder, and asked “Why?” He said, “Because no one ever started it.” So, I decided to try that. Why not, right?

This year, I wanted to see if I could find some groups who were interested in making a film or two.   met with Chanda and Susan at Asheville Community Theatre, and they immediately loved the idea… so we scheduled a couple blocks of time and Chanda recruited two groups of kids. The rest is film history – or soon will be!

The most successful festivals have the kind of library support that Jesse offered, from financial support to a great facility to red carpet and popcorn! The youth program at the theater and great involvement there and by you at Spellbound Bookshop are starting our first festival off at a high level.

You recently made two films in one week with a group of kids in the youth program at the community theater. Any highlights you’d like to share?

First, it was one heck of a week! We had a wonderful time working together helping the kids learn and create. I taught them a little about film and how films create tension and tell a story in such short bursts, unlike most plays.

THE HUNDRED DRESSES, Hamilton-style!

Since the festival encourages creativity, we wrote the scripts a wee bit differently from the books. We did ‘The Hundred Dresses’ as a rap musical, using some of the music from Hamilton – a show the kids know very well, so that was exciting.

‘Mr. Popper’s Penguins,’ in our film, is a whodunit mystery, with mystery music and lighting. The Popper’s film was wonderfully chaotic, since we had 12 kids as penguins, 10 of them jumping out of an egg, with the other two being dumped from shipping boxes. All the kids got to be involved in the dance scene, which deteriorates into a fight and an arrest.

Stop that cop!

We gave the kids silly string so they could silly string the two police officer characters who tried to break up the chaos. Of course, my helper and I spent a lot of time after that scraping silly string off the stage since there was a show the next day.

The kids quickly learned the difference between stage acting and film acting – especially short films! They thought they just learned the lines and then got to rehearse a lot. Nope.  Discuss a scene, run it once and then shoot it several times. And change it every time.

Old Man Svenson’s Yellow House and Yellow Dog

The other fun thing the kids found out was that we shoot film scenes out of order, shooting the ending before we even shot the opening – all because of costuming and when we could do what where.

One of the ‘Mr. Popper’s Penguins’ kids first wanted to be my assistant, so he held the boom mike… then he decided it was so much fun that he begged to be in the film – something that really surprised his mother, who said this was the most excited she’d seen him in a long time. Many parents wrote to say how they’d not seen their kids so invested in something for some time.

Any advice for booksellers or librarians who would like to get kids involved in making and submitting films, or maybe even trying to get a screening in their town?

The hardest part seems to be getting groups of kids (or teachers or librarians, or…) who have the time to help choose/read/organize the book and film shoot. I’m frequently telling people that it doesn’t have to be fancy – kids can shoot it on their phones and edit easily. It doesn’t take “actors.” The films just take creativity, and lots of kids have that when helped with a bit of structure (the adults’ role). Films can be crayon drawings with a voiced story, or pipe cleaner characters, or real children playing the parts, or… you name it. Costuming is whatever you want it to be. Our festival will have space for 20 films. I hope Asheville kids fill at least 10 of those spots.  James Kennedy will fill in the rest with “best of” from other festivals.

James is wonderful to work with if towns want their own festival. If you bring him in, there’s some expense in terms of travel and some honorarium, but I’m sure he’d help in many other ways even if he didn’t come to co-host.

What more could you ask for?

There’s still time to submit a film to Asheville’s 90-Second Newbery Film Festival, which happens in April and will be co-hosted by founder James Kennedy and emceed by Alan Gratz. Alan is a local and author of the League of Seven series, Projekt 1065, and the forthcoming Ban This Book (Starscape, Sept. 2017). Check the 90-Second Newbery website for submission deadlines and screenings, which vary by region. And if you work with kids and books, take it from me – this is a really fun way to get kids engaged with books on a whole different level. Maybe you should get some kids together for a filming or even look ahead to bringing a 90-Second Film Festival to your town.

3 thoughts on “90-Second Newbery Revisited

    1. Leslie Hawkins Post author

      That’s a great question, Carol! I’m behind the times and have not yet started a You Tube Channel for the bookstore, but this would be something great to feature. I’m sure the theater director who gathered the kids for these two film shoots has everyone’s contact info, so I’ll look into that. I’m sure the films will be available to watch soon after the festival on the 90-Second Newbery website.

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