Click photo to enlarge
Ali Suliman stars in THE ATTACK from Cohen Media Group. Playing in 33rd San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. (Photo credit: Cohen Media Group)

If there's a unifying theme in 2013's San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, it's that many entries will spark lively conversations and debates afterward. Just like all good film festival movies should.

This year's slate of 74 films cover hot-button issues ranging from late-term abortions to sexual experimentation and on to Israeli-Palestinian tensions. Family fare is also well-represented, along with some definite crowd pleasers. The festival kicks off this week.

Particularly noteworthy is the impressive number of entries that not only focus on powerful women -- including a fictionalized account of celebrated philosopher Hannah Arendt and a documentary on feminist Esther Broner -- but are directed by them. Hollywood, take a cue already.

Barbara Sukowa as Hannah Arendt in HANNAH ARENDT, a film by Margarethe von Trotta, screening at the 33rd San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.
Barbara Sukowa as Hannah Arendt in HANNAH ARENDT, a film by Margarethe von Trotta, screening at the 33rd San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. ( Zeitgiest Films )

The annual festival kicks off July 25 with the boy-detective drama "The Zigzag Kid" and runs through Aug. 12 with screenings at theaters throughout the Bay Area, including Oakland, Berkeley, Palo Alto, San Francisco and San Rafael.

Here are a few films not to be missed.

"The Attack": How well do we really know our spouses? That's one of the shattering questions raised in director Ziad Doueiri's searing thriller. Ali Suliman is a revelation as anguished Palestinian Israeli surgeon Amin Jaafari, a desperate husband navigating treacherous emotional and physical terrain while investigating whether his wife was the suicide bomber who killed more than a dozen in Tel Aviv. "The Attack" is not just riveting but it exposes how repressed political sentiments bubble to the surface in moments of crisis. Don't miss it. (6:15 p.m. July 30, the Castro, S.F.; 6:40 p.m. Aug. 4, the California, Berkeley; opens Aug. 9 in area theaters.)

"Dancing in Jaffa": I bet Hollywood can't wait to adapt this inspirational documentary about a ballroom champion's altruistic project to persuade Jewish and Palestinian Israeli children to set aside differences and dance together. Director Hilla Medalia's jewel of a movie draws us into the lives of the kids and their instructor, Pierre Dulaine. It's hard not to be captivated by this beautifully shot documentary's graceful power and its hopeful spirit. (3:45 p.m. July 26, the Castro; 6:55 p.m. Aug. 2, the California; 2 p.m. Aug. 6, CineArts in Palo Alto; noon Aug. 10, the Rafael Film Center, San Rafael.)

"After Tiller": As Roe v. Wade confronts more challenges, just four U.S. doctors continue to perform controversial late-term abortions. Why do they pursue a practice that provokes so much outrage? Who are their patients? We find out in this insightful and moving documentary. "After Tiller" -- named after the late-term abortion doctor George Tiller, who was murdered -- will shake you to your very core and may even make you reconsider your own beliefs. Martha Shane and Lana Wilson are talented filmmakers, and they've given us a unique perspective in a roiling debate (4 p.m. Aug. 8, the California).

Israeli beauty queen Linor Abargil stars in "Brave Miss World," a documentary screening at the 33rd San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.
Israeli beauty queen Linor Abargil stars in "Brave Miss World," a documentary screening at the 33rd San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. ( N/A )

"Brave Miss World": Seven weeks after her 1998 rape in Italy, Israeli beauty queen Linor Abargil was onstage winning the Miss World title. In Cecilia Peck's shocking documentary, the camera follows the stunning Abargil as she travels the world talking to countless survivors of rape and trying to create more awareness about this epidemic. Peck's work is as urgent and important as last year's "The Invisible War," Kirby Dick's disturbing exploration of the military's inaction in cases of sexual violence against women. "Brave Miss World" is not only well-made, it's a soul-stirring experience that will outrage. (3:30 p.m. July 31, the Castro; 2 p.m. August 4, the California.)

"Hannah Arendt": Barbara Sukowa's wise, layered portrayal of real-life philosopher/writer Hannah Arendt, best known for her New Yorker coverage of the Adolf Eichmann trial, is the real reason to see director Margarethe von Trotta's intelligent, restrained film bio. It's a little slow, but there are a host of other rewards, including von Trotta's use of footage from the court proceedings themselves and Janet McTeer's radiant performance -- as usual -- in a small role as popular novelist Mary McCarthy ("The Group"). Thought-provoking and literate. (2:05 p.m. July 28 at the Castro; opens Aug. 2 at the Shattuck, Berkeley; the Camera 3 in San Jose; the Opera Plaza in S.F.; and the Rafael Film Center.)

San Francisco
Jewish Film Festival

When: July 25 through
Aug. 12
Where: California Theatre, 2113 Kittredge St., Berkeley; Grand Lake Theater, 3200 Grand Ave., Oakland; Piedmont Theatre, 4186 Piedmont Ave.; New Parkway Theater, 474 24th St., Oakland; CineArts, 3000 El Camino Real Building No. 6, Palo Alto; Castro Theatre, 429 Castro St., S.F.; JCCSF, 3200 California, S.F.; Rayko Photo Center, 428 Third St., S.F.; Rafael Film Center, 1118 4th. St., San Rafael
Tickets: 415-621-0523
or http://sfjff.org