Film fans arrive Sunday for the final day of the Maine International Film Festival at the Maine Film Center, based at the Paul J. Schupf Art Center in downtown Waterville. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

WATERVILLE — Though the Maine International Film Festival wrapped Sunday, a Norridgewock documentarian will be among a couple of filmmakers to enjoy encore screenings of their popular movies in the coming weeks.

The film festival, known as MIFF, is a 10-day event that screens about 100 films, drawing thousands of enthusiasts to central Maine.

In its 26th year, the festival has found a consolidated home at the new Paul J. Schupf Art Center in downtown Waterville, after several years of being celebrated at various locations in Waterville and Skowhegan.

“People have been really enjoying coming,” MIFF Executive Director Mike Perreault said Sunday. “They’ve really been thinking about the Paul J. Schupf Art Center as the anchor for their festival experience. I have witnessed so much really amazing community building happening organically.”

Perreault said he will not know official attendance figures for the festival until Monday, but said people turned out in big numbers. Many screenings were sold out, and because of popular demand, certain films are set to enjoy encore screenings in the coming weeks, Perreault said. The first is “Israelism,” a documentary created by a Norridgewock native that is to be shown for a third time Wednesday.

The 84-minute film follows a growing grassroots movement of young Jewish Americans questioning whether the state of Israel should be the cornerstone of their identity after learning of — or, in some cases, witnessing — Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinian people, director Eric Axelman said Saturday.


A still from “Israelism,” a documentary that is to be screened a third time at the Maine Film Center in Waterville after a successful run at the Maine International Film Festival. Courtesy of Eric Axelman

Axelman, 33, is a Jewish filmmaker who identifies as trans/nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns. Axelman grew up in Norridgewock, graduating from the Skowhegan school system and finishing their formal education at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.

“Israelism” is Axelman’s directorial debut and was inspired by their experiences being raised in the Jewish faith in rural Maine.

While Axelman said they did not experience outright anti-Semitism growing up in Norridgewock, they often felt different from and misunderstood by Christian peers. Being a trans child only worsened that feeling of “otherness,” Axelman said, and created a need for them to carve out an identity for themselves.

“For my bar mitzvah, I was given this book called “Exodus,” by Leon Uris, which is this kind of heroic tale of Israel’s founding,” Axelman said Saturday. “For the first time, I realized that I could have a Jewish identity that wasn’t just based on ancient religious texts. I fell in love with all things Israel immediately.”

Through high school, Axelman said they uncritically devoured every book they could find about Israel and its history, and dreamed of joining the Israeli military. In their senior year, Axelman began filming a pro-Israel documentary on the history of Zionism as a school project.

But when Jim Ramsey, one of Axelman’s teachers at Skowhegan Area High School, encouraged them to read some Palestinian history for the project, the budding filmmaker’s world was rocked.


“It totally opened my eyes,” Axelman said. “I realized that the narrative I’d fallen in love with about Israel was ultimately a really simplistic narrative that lacked any real complexity about the Palestinian people.”

After making that documentary, Axelman became interested in not only Israeli-Palestinian history, but in why they had fallen so in love with the pro-Israel narrative in the first place. And while at Brown University, the filmmaker said they found that many other young Jewish Americans shared their sense of disillusionment and felt a part of a larger generational story yet to be told.

Now, after seven years of filming, Axelman has brought that story to the screen with “Israelism.”

Co-created by Axelman and their nonprofit film collective Tikkum Olam Productions, “Israelism” centers a progressive perspective but also includes many pro-Israel voices, the director said, including national director emeritus of the Anti-Defamation League, Abe Foxman. Also interviewed in the film are lauded academics Noam Chomsky and Cornel West, among others.

“Israelism” was financed almost entirely by donations from small progressive Jewish foundations and the Massachusetts-based LEF foundation, which funds independent documentary film work, Axelman said. It premiered earlier this year at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival in Arizona, and has since played at several film festival across the country to great acclaim, most recently at MIFF, where Axelman said both screenings were sold out within a few days of tickets being released.

The film is scheduled to be shown a third and final time Wednesday at 6:50 p.m. at the Maine Film Center, 93 Main St., and be followed by a Q&A session with its creators.

Tickets can be purchased at

Related Headlines

Comments are no longer available on this story