Talk to the people who have worked with Berkeley filmmaker Yoav Potash, and you're talking to people who love Yoav Potash.
"Yoav was able to ... not coerce, not convince, but inspire hundreds and hundreds of people to volunteer hours and days and weeks of their time" to make the zany "Minute Matrimony," a short film that won a Golden Gate Award and a place in the 45th San Francisco International Film Festival, said his friend and volunteer actor Yoshua Safran of Berkeley.
The movie "wasn't about saving the world or feeding hungry children," said Safran, a 26-year-old lawyer in Walnut Creek, "and yet people were driving from Sacramento" to help Potash make the movie.
"Minute Matrimony" will premiere as part of "They Came from the Bay" at the festival at 6:30 p.m. today.
Potash's energy and charisma drew over 100 volunteers, from a stage mom to several aspiring actors to industry professionals, to make the 14-minute film about cultural differences and marriage, drive-through style.
The movie, shot mostly at an abandoned McDonald's on the Alameda Naval Base and partly in Potash's back yard, mixes the sacredness of matrimony with the rapid-fire attitude of the fast-food industry. Feeling the itch to get hitched? Drive up to the Minute Matrimony window and order the value pack, complete with bridesmaids and rice!
The people who drive up are ethnic and cultural caricatures but positive caricatures, Potash says. A nearly blind Jewish man and a beautiful black woman. A homosexual couple.
"Each couple ... has to overcome cultural obstacles in order to achieve their heart's desire," Potash said.
"I really do feel that this film, when you look at the diversity of it and the way the cast and crew work together, not just as a team but as a family, it really had to happen in the Bay Area," Potash said. "It really does embrace and celebrate diversity and not just give lip service."
Safran, deep in his last year of law school at the time, taught the movie's black gospel choir the Jewish hymns for their scenes.
And the gospel choir? They taught the Jewish guys to dance.
That kind of inter-ethnic experience is part of what started Potash on the road to his first film.
Potash, who graduated UC Berkeley in 1996 with a degree in architecture and another in English, spent about a year in newspaper editing before he gave himself over entirely to filmmaking.
In 1997, he followed a group of Berkeley students to the deep south, where he shot his first documentary: their efforts to rebuild black churches that had been burned down.
"It was a multicultural group of students setting up to do a worthwhile thing, a bold act," Potash said. "Multiculturalism is a very valuable part of American identity and our experience as Americans. ... We can't just be naive about working together."
In "Minute Matrimony," Potash's first comedy and his first film to be screened at a festival, he wanted to keep the culture clashes and resolutions funny, but he also wanted audiences to be able to see themselves in it, to identify with one or two or all of the characters.
"Each of the different cultures portrayed in the film is very distinct," Potash said. "I tried to write the script with a little bit of wiggle room so that the actors themselves could fill it in."
Potash wrote the words to the gospel hymns, but the vocal stylings and the music were up to the choir.
"Thank God," Potash said.
Potash took care of other incidentals.
"He taught me a lot about acting," said Meghan McGovern, 17, of Alamo. The Diablo Valley College student had never done film acting before she answered an online ad for "Minute Matrimony." She plays a young bride.
Potash cast Alex Barker, 15, of Moraga, as the drive-through preacher. Potash taught him Yiddish pronunciation so he could recite a Hebrew prayer in his turn as a rabbi.
"We had to do it a whole bunch of times," said the Miramonte freshman, laughing.
Even Barker's mother, Vicki McReynolds, a self-professed stage mom, got to try something new.
Yoav needed a Jewish grandmother and a Jewish mother in the back seat of the convertible for the interracial ceremony. Potash's aunt, Sue Mallah of Pleasant Hill, was set to go as the blind mother. But the grandmother role had to be refilled at the last minute.
"I'm not an actress," she said. "He asked me to stand in and I thought he was kidding."
But a few words of encouragement from Potash and she was in; now she says she wants bit parts in all his movies.
Getting the weather to cooperate, however, was another matter. On the first day of shooting, it poured.
"Our set had some delicate elements to it," Potash said, "which included probably thousands of doilies which were kind of strung over the aisle ... so our doilies were crumpled."
Potash, who had the McDonald's site for four days in February 2001 thanks to the lobbying of volunteer location manager Scott Trimble, decided to change the schedule. The wedding was off but the drive-through divorce scene was on.
"I wasn't sure if I was going to get booed out of the Mcdonald's" after suggesting they shoot in the rain, he said. But everyone was game.
"It was one of my favorite moments of the whole shooting experience. It felt great; it felt like we were forging ahead through thick and thin."
Potash hopes "Minute Matrimony," which is in the running for a $1,000 Golden Gate grand prize, is a stepping stone to feature length films. He thinks it will sell, maybe to HBO or Bravo or Comedy Central. Then he can give investors a return and start on the next project.
He is sure to have no lack of volunteers.
©2002 Berkeley Voice