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Events Thu Jan 30 2014

The Best 90 Seconds You'll Ever Spend

Screen shot 2014-01-31 at 8.39.58 AM.pngImagine a short film, a minute and a half long, wherein little kids reenact their favorite children’s books. Now imagine watching a multitude of these shorts, back-to-back-to-back. Kind of triggers your ‘awww’ reflex doesn’t it?

Well such a festival isn’t hypothetical; it exists. It’s called the 90-Second Newbery Festival, and through it founder and The Order of Odd-Fish author James Kennedy challenges children to re-create Newbery-award-winning books within strict time constraints. The festival, which is only now entering its third year, has been a massive success, drawing in hundreds of submissions from around the world, all of which James watches and posts on his blog.

Screen shot 2014-01-31 at 8.21.01 AM.png

Even from its initial inception the concept was a hit. After losing the Newbery to Neil Gaiman in 2009, Kennedy was “embittered”. “I really wanted to win the Newbery. I really felt, in my heart of hearts, that I really deserved it [Author’s sarcasm].” After staging a fake battle with a friend dressed as Gaiman—including a series of physical challenges and ending with Kennedy’s own sacrifice at the altar of Newbery—Gaiman took notice, and took to social media about the whole spectacle. Then, when Kennedy posted the first Newbery adaptation, a 90-second A Wrinkle in Time, the concept exploded in popularity— and Neil Gaiman re-tweeting the video didn’t hurt.

After sitting down with Kennedy to discuss the upcoming festival on February 1st, it became apparent that this event is not just in it for the awww’s. “When you adapt a piece of literature, you take ownership of it,” he says of the 90-second challenge. By encouraging kids to not only read Newbery award winning books carefully, but also to pick and choose key narrative moments, they will inevitably develop opinions about that literature.

This is especially helpful, Kennedy notes, in the cases of those books that are more problematic, such as the first Newbery winner, The Story of Mankind. When a young reader is asked to summarize in its barest brevity issues like imperialism, racism, sexism or classism, it not only asks that reader to undertake a more critical analysis of the issue at hand, but also in its brevity makes a mockery of it. “Kids,” says Kennedy, “are really good at getting the emotional pith of what’s going on in the story.” Screen shot 2014-01-31 at 8.22.27 AM.png

The festival’s structure also encourages a kind of double-literacy, as Kennedy asks that submitters try to adapt the books in an unexpected film genre. Make a 90-second German Expressionist film, or a musical, or try your hand at shadow puppetry. “Say, ‘We’re gonna do Charlotte’s Web, but we’re gonna do it in the style of David Lynch’s Eraserhead.’…You learn more about the book and you learn more about the genre by doing it.”

The festival is a gift in a world built on participatory culture. It takes the very solitary act of reading, and turns it into an opportunity for young readers to build community, taste, and hands-on film experience. “What kids have is time, and what they want is recognition,” says Kennedy. The festival showings, which usually feature primarily films from the town in which they are screened, allow kids to find literary peers, and often even meet the authors whose work they adapt! This is especially powerful when young readers tend to get more wrapped up in the world of a novel. Screen shot 2014-01-31 at 8.27.36 AM.png

On top of the films themselves, 90-Second Newbery festival usually features more than one sketch or interactive game. In years past, games played have included “Is it Snooki or is it Newbery?”, and a multiple choice quiz show about crimes committed by Newbery authors past. This year, in recognition of how morbid Newbery books can be, Kennedy promises a game show entitled, “Death, an Animal, or an Animal Death?” (Millions of Cats, anyone?)

The Chicago festival this Saturday, February 1st, has sold out, but hop on that waitlist here, or check out its other upcoming locations!

For those interested in submitting next year, Kennedy suggests that you do choose to include a genre twist, and that you pick a book you love. (Just try to avoid The Giver, Bridge to Tarabithia, or Holes. These choices tend to over-stuff his inbox, and also, there’s only so many The Giver-style baby-killing scenes one guy can watch.) In the meantime, gain some inspiration from these 25 fan favorites!

 
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suzanne / November 22, 2014 5:46 AM

Terrific write up, very engaging style. You go, girl.

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