It might be impossible to make a good documentary about Sarah Palin. The former Alaska governor and Republican vice-presidential nominee is a politician who inspires heights of both devotion and disgust. There is no middle ground when it comes to Palin and, for filmmakers, that results in either sycophancy or assault.
For example, we all remember (OK, I’m kidding, we don’t, no one saw it) The Undefeated, Stephen K. Bannon’s hagiographic Palin mash note from three months back. In his review, TIME’s Richard Corliss wrote, “Bannon applies so much idolatrous airbrushing to his portrait of the divine Sarah that the movie might be called Going Rouge.” British filmmaker Nick Broomfield offers a cheeky, overheated response of sorts in his new documentary Sarah Palin—You Betcha!, which makes its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival.
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Like the conspiracy-laden Kurt & Courtney and Biggie & Tupac, the two Broomfield films most familiar to Americans, You Betcha! traffics in rumor, insinuation and the clownishness of the director himself, who is a master of putting himself at the very center of his documentaries, no matter what they’re about. Slipping and sliding through the icy streets of Wasilla with an ever-present boom mic and a black and red hunting jacket, Broomfield scores interviews with Palin opponents—a political blogger, the man she defeated for the Wasilla mayorship, the Democratic state senate president during her run as governor, and a few former disgruntled employees.
In one comical scene, he negotiates on the phone with Tank Jones, Levi Johnston’s agent, for a sit-down. Tank wants $20,000, for which Levi might talk about drugs in the Palin house and the other lovers of Sarah and Todd. Broomfield offers $500. As a consolation prize, he gets an interview with Levi’s sister. When he can’t track down any of Palin’s high school sports friends, he goes to Alexandria, Egypt, still wearing his red and black thermals, to chat with a former classmate. Everyone’s on the periphery. Mainly, the film argues, because Palin is expert at getting into feuds with just about anyone.
Like Michael Moore in Roger and Me, in which Moore tries to track down the CEO of General Motors, Broomfield spends much of the film trying to score an interview with Palin, to no avail. The closest he comes is two encounters at book signings and one shouted out question at another—”Do you think your political career is over?”—before being escorted out of the event. It’s the closest the film has to a moment of genuine tension or surprise.
Full of cheap shots—a standout is the statement, out of nowhere and connected to nothing on screen, that “Wasilla today is the meth capital of Alaska”—and interviews with people who clearly have an interest in portraying Palin as a daft, two-faced politico, the lightweight You Betcha! will delight simplistic liberals and anger conservatives who already believe that Palin is a hunted woman. It’s all part of a self-fulfilling prophecy: Palin’s fear of media hit jobs prevent her or anyone in her corner from speaking out, so someone like Broomfield is forced to talk to people who dislike her, resulting in a media hit job. It’s not an ideal situation and far from an ideal film.
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