Could cool films in Mill Valley fest fall beneath radar?

Terrance Kelly (right) conducts the unique Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir.

The Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, a unique blend of 55 voices and four instrumentalists, will perform Oct. 10 at Sweetwater Music Hall in Mill Valley.

That show is directly linked to the world-class Mill Valley Film Festival, where “One Voice,” a 64-minute documentary that focuses on the group and its artistic director, Terrance Kelly, will be screened earlier that evening and again at an Oct. 13 matinee.

Even festival buffs may find the doc falling under their radar, however — lost in a deluge of 204 MVFF films.

The choir fuses what it describes as singers from more than a dozen faiths, “races, socioeconomic backgrounds, genders and lifestyles…a radiant manifestation of what is possible when people come together, a balm for our times.”

I know that may sound like hype, but it’s accurate.

How do I know?

I’ve been thrilled to watch the group in action many times in assorted East Bay venues.

And I’ve met Kelly — and Ed, his late father, a gifted jazz pianist I’d happily heard play even more often — as well as Stacey Hoffman, the choir’s co-founder, and Ellen Hoffman (no relation), another dexterous jazz pianist who tinkled the proverbial ivories for the OIGC in its earliest days.

My adoration dates to not long after the choir was formed in 1986 as an outgrowth of a gospel music workshop the younger Kelly conducted at Cazadero Jazz Camp near the Russian River in Sonoma County (which my pianist wife attended and where the likes of Bobby McFerrin, Al Jarreau and Tuck & Patti were faculty members, participants and ardent supporters).

It had only 23 singers back then.

The joyful music-laden documentary, which includes coverage of the OIGC at the famed Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, also features news shots of human degradation, civil rights activities and the Black Panther movement.

God, voiced by the film director’s father, and the Goddess are key components of “Seder-Masochism,” one of 204 offerings at the Mill Valley Film Festival.

Another extraordinary, cool movie that might be overshadowed by the glamor of watching films and stars vying for Academy Awards is “Seder-Masochism,” a humorous yet bizarre retelling of the Passover story that superimposes a struggle between forces of the ancient patriarchy and the Goddess (aka the Great Mother), humankind’s original deity.

The musical-comedy film by Nina Paley, director of “Sita Sings the Blues,” spotlights a variety of animation techniques and includes such weird, sometimes off-putting tidbits as Jesus babbling during the last supper, a seder; a series of dancing nude female sculptures; and an obnoxious, overpowering Angel of Death.

It also features the honest, droll voice of Paley’s father.

As God.

Because I’m Jewish and celebrate Passover each year, I was previously aware of the basic story. But I believe non-Jews — especially those who revel in an inimitable screen experience, will also be fascinated for each of the film’s 78 minutes.

Also apt to be absent on the must-see lists of the majority of MVFF attendees are nine films in contention for the best foreign language Oscar: Colombia’s “Birds of Passage,” Egypt’s “Yomeddine,” Iceland’s “Woman at War,” Japan’s “Shoplifters,” Lebanon’s “Capernaum,” Mexico’s “Roma,” Poland’s “Cold War,” South Korea’s “Burning” and Sweden’s “Border.”

In contrast, I foresee festivalgoers packing both opening night films on Oct. 4: “A Private War” (starring Rosamund Pike, who’ll be in attendance at the U.S. premiere) and “Green Book,” which hones in on a tour of the American South Don Shirley, a black jazz pianist I caught multiple times in New York City when I was a teen.

I predict, too, that they’ll jam Oct. 14’s “If Beale Street Could Talk,” the closing-night follow-up by director Barry Jenkins to his Oscar-winning “Moonlight.”

The beginning celebration at Marin Country Mart in Larkspur and the closing gala at the Elks Lodge in San Rafael should likewise draw crowds.

As will personal appearances by such Big Names as actresses Maggie Gyllenhaal (who’s starring in “The Kindergarten Teacher”) and Carey Mulligan (who’ll be there with actor Paul Dano for “Wildlife,” which he directed and co-wrote and co-produced), director Jason Reitman (“The Front Runner”), producer-actress Anna Paquin (“The Parting Glass”), and actor Peter Coyote (“As If They Were Angels”)

Whether devotees of the 41st annual MVFF will check out — in addition to the Oakland choir’s appearance — other  Sweetwater musical treats connected with festival screenings is anyone’s guess.

But I’d hope full houses would result for singer Holly Near (accompanied by pianist Tammy Hall and bassist Jan Martinelli) on Oct. 7, singer-songwriter Michael Franti on Oct. 8, rock cover band Black Zeppelin on Oct. 9, and jazz vocalist Faye Carol on Oct. 11.

Musical opportunities like those just aren’t that frequent.

More information about the Mill Valley Film Festival can be found at http://MVFF.comor by calling 415-383-5256.

About the Author

Woody WeingartenWoody Weingarten, who can be reached at or, can’t remember when he couldn’t talk — or play with words. His first poem was published in high school but when his hormones announced the arrival of adulthood, he figured he’d rather eat than rhyme. So he switched to journalism. And whadda ya know, the bearded, bespectacled fella has used big, small and hyphenated words professionally since jumpstarting his career in New Yawk City more than 60 years ago. Today the author of the book “Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner’s breast cancer” is also a reviewer-critic, blogger and publisher — despite allegedly being retired. During his better-paid years as a wage slave he was an executive editor and writer for daily and weekly publications in California, Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York. He won writing awards for public service and investigation, features, columns, editorials and news. Woody also has published weekly and monthly newspapers, and written a national column for “Audio” magazine. A graduate of Colgate University, he owned a public relations/ad agency and managed an advertising publication. The father of two and grandfather of three, he and his wife, Nancy Fox, have lived in San Anselmo in Marin County for three decades. He figures they'll stay.View all posts by Woody Weingarten →