Tag Archives: movies

90 Second Newbery

90 Second Newbery is a film festival for kids to make very short movies telling the story of Newbery or Newbery honor winning books. The deadline for films is next week and the screenings start soon. You can find a list of them on the website. I already shared ours a few places because I was so excited by it and meant to blog about it earlier, but life interfered, so I’m sharing it here now.

We chose this as one of our big fall projects and it has been really cool to see the result. One of the most rewarding aspects was that after we sent in the link for the film, James Kennedy, who runs the festival, sent back really specific and positive feedback, which was very cool. Even if you don’t have time to participate this year, I would really encourage everyone to think about this as a project for the future. It involved so much good, positive, creative work and so many good discussions of literature.

This is the film Mushroom and BalletBoy made:

I’m still surprised at how much work went into this project. They’ve made little stop motion movies before as well as some little kid live action movies. Both the boys have a facility with iPad movie editing apps. However, they had never seriously attempted a project this ambitious. And everything, from the choice of the book, to the script, to the music and shots had to be agreed upon and it wasn’t always easy with two directors who had different visions.

The script was especially tricky. In the end, we used the script that Mushroom wrote. He had all these great phrases and moments in it, like a vision of Ivan saying, “Mack didn’t call the vet,” followed by silence to indicate how Stella died and the idea of using a news report to explain how Ivan ends up at the zoo.

Building the set for the stop motion of Ivan was even harder. We started with thin plexiglass walls for the stuffed gorilla playing Ivan, but the glare was terrible no matter how we set up the lighting and we finally had to lose it. We also tried using a green screen and even borrowed a real green screen from a friend, but again the lighting was never quite good enough to make the green screen look good and it refused to pan properly. In the end, the kids just printed out the image of the mall circus store they’d chosen to be Ivan’s dismal backdrop. The green screen was also supposed to be used for the news report, but all the takes didn’t work and we had to wrangle our friends from co-op into doing the report instead.

Filming the crayon drawings also was tricky at times. The Stop Motion app cut off the edges of drawings, which was okay for some scenes, but meant we filmed the final credits (no joke) more than half a dozen times trying to make them readable and not cut off.

Not long ago, I posted about how I think parents should help their children with their projects sometimes. This is a great example of that for us. I did almost none of the work for this movie. Probably the biggest thing I did was make a couple of the protest signs when BalletBoy was sick and they needed to be done so Mushroom could film with their friends the next day. But every other bit of work was completely the kids. Every photo, every bit of filming, every drawing, every idea for the movie.

Mostly what I did do was a huge amount of organization for them. I kept them on schedule. I typed up the handwritten script and helped them edit and revise. I encouraged them to pay attention to the details and redo things when they didn’t work or to let things go when they weren’t happy with the best result we could get. I mediated and suggested compromises between their different ideas. I highlighted the parts of the script that had been filmed to help them keep track. I set aside time for them to work. I played cheerleader and said how great the project would be in the end. And it is great.

I think kids need all kinds of projects. They need things where it’s really completely on them from start to finish. They need things where they have to follow someone else’s rules. They need things where someone shows them how much they can do with a little support. This was a project with a little support and I feel really positive about it and so do the kids.

Documentary Watchers

We’ve been really enjoying documentaries lately.  Obviously documentaries can be a nice way to break up teaching of a subject, but they can also just be interesting films in their own right and don’t have to align with what you’re teaching.  They can be a nice diversion or a way to learn about something completely different.  A few that have graced our TV in recent weeks…

Cheng Cheng, Xiaofei Xu, Luo Lei, in front of class, Wuhan Evergreen No. 1 Primary SchoolPlease Vote for Me
This documentary is in Chinese, so I was a little unsure about putting it on our queue.  However, both the boys have an odd fascination with student government, which apparently is strong enough to extend to Chinese primary schools and BalletBoy in particular really took to this documentary, wanting to see it a second time.  It follows a third grade class in China as they choose their class monitor through an election for the very first time.  Three kids vie to for the title: the previous monitor who is a bit of a bully, a middle class boy who knows how to manipulate emotions, and a girl who is unsure of herself.  It’s a very sweet look at the first fumblings of democracy in another country.

This movie is about industrial design and the way in which the objects around us have all been designed, even though we often think of them as just being that way.  It interviews several designers and talks about their creative process.  For Mushroom, who is always talking about things having “good design,” I am hoping it was a nice spark, but the content was drier than I had hoped.  We enjoyed it, but it wasn’t the hit I hoped for.

The Story of 1The Story of 1
This Terry Jones documentary about the history of the number one is exactly what you would expect from the elder British comedian and filmmaker.  Cute animations of the number one through history intersperse the show as it shows the birth of counting back in caves, past cuneiform marks and Roman numerals, through the introduction of the zero, and into binary code.  Jones narrates the program with interesting anecdotes about math and the ways in which numbers influence our lives.  This one was definitely a hit.  The Husband paused his day to watch it with us.

Paper Clips
We chose this documentary to go along with our study of World War II, but it’s such a moving story with so many layers that it’s worth watching even if it doesn’t coordinate with content subjects.  A small, homogeneous southern town begins a project on the Holocaust, collecting paper clips to represent the six million Jewish victims.  As the project continues, the prejudices of the people in the town are confronted as well as the prejudice of people in the rest of the country toward a small, mostly white southern town.  It’s a moving story that somehow is about the Holocaust and yet is hopeful because it shows a group of people trying to fight intolerance.

Summerschooling the Movies

We’re going to continue with several “school” things over the summer.  In particular, there’s summer reading through the DC library.  Last year, when BalletBoy was just beginning to sound out words, he scored a large number of special trinkets through the DC Library’s program.  However, with trips and summer camps interspersing our days, we’re taking a break from most of our normal routine beginning right about now.  I’m pretty happy to have that break and I’m sure the kids are too.  Not to mention all the extra awesome writing time I’ll get during summer camp time!

But I thought we needed a summerschooling topic, so I suggested a few to the kids and they picked film as something they’d like to learn more about.  So whenever we have a little time, here’s what I’ve designed for us.

We’re starting off by going to the Helios exhibit at the Corcoran Gallery.  This exhibit explores the work of Eadweard Muybridge, who was a very early pioneer photographer in moving images.  He’s most famous for the series of photos below of how a horse moves.

Drawing from that, I’m hoping we’ll make flipbooks and maybe take photos to make a photo-based flipbook.  Speaking of which, I just ordered the book Movie Science: 40 Mind-Expanding, Reality-Bending, Star-Struck Activities for Kids by Jim Wiese, so I’m hoping that will have even more fun activities for us to do when thinking about movies over the next couple months.  And speaking of books, there’s also the book Lights, Camera, Action by Gail Gibbons.  I’m hoping to find a few more fun titles to read about movies for summerschooling.

I hope that this will be a little bit of the science of movies, a little bit of art and a little bit of culture.  Classic films are cultural reference points the same way that plays, music, and other works of art are.  However, I’m also hoping this unit will add a little more media literacy to my kids’ lives.  We already talk about commercials and the way that things are sold.  However, I think there’s more to media literacy than that.  I’m hoping to work on Mushroom and BalletBoy’s ability to talk about how moving images, music and story can make us feel certain ways and how that works.

Last, but not least, the movies themselves!  I think watching movies will be perfect for lazy, hot summer afternoons.  Here’s what I’ve got in mind so far:

  • Some of the first films, such as Georges Melies’s A Trip to the Moon
  • Safety Last with Harold Lloyd
  • Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights
  • The Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup
  • The Wizard of Oz
  • Fantasia
  • Singing in the Rain

I’d also like to add a western.  You always have to have a western!  Plus, we may jump ahead and do some more recent classics, like E.T. and The Princess Bride.  I’d love to do this again in a few years, when they’d be old enough to appreciate a whole different level of storytelling and dramatic tension.  Right now, I think movies like To Kill a Mockingbird will be a little too complex and Raiders of the Lost Ark a little too scary.  But in a couple of years…