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60 and Counting 

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The Secrets, a taboo-splintering drama set in and around a women’s religious school in the mystical northern Israeli city of Safed, is the quintessential S.F. Jewish Film Festival offering. Director Avi Nesher stylishly filters the venerable traditions of Orthodox Judaism and the sacred mysteries of the Kabbala through the heat of lesbian attraction, boldly dismantling the invisible fence between the past and the present. (The Secrets screens July 28.) A more concrete divider — the massive wall Israel has erected between itself and the occupied territories — threatens the life and livelihood of a Palestinian village in Shai Carmeli Pollak’s urgent and unapologetically subjective documentary Bilin, My Love (July 29.)

To mark Israel’s 60th anniversary, the SFJFF has assembled a typically controversial slate of movies that confirms its status as the most bravely political film event on the local calendar. (That approach has kept the festival profoundly relevant throughout its 28 years, but hasn’t always endeared it to the local Jewish establishment.) The harrowing doc To See If I’m Smiling (screening today at 4 p.m.) centers on six women soldiers who served in the territories and the traumatic effects on their psyches, while Praying in Her Own Voice (July 31) spotlights a quite different group of women warriors: Orthodox Jews clamoring for their right to daven out loud at the supremely holy Western Wall. Frankly, it’s rather amazing how such a small country can accommodate so many wildly different perspectives — it’s our good fortune that the SFJFF makes room for so many of them.

The festival continues at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco Aug. 2-10 and elsewhere in the Bay Area through Aug. 11.
July 24-31, 2008

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