It was inevitable that someone would make a none-too-flattering documentary about Sarah Palin before disgraced governor and her beauty pageant-winning smile even attempted to run for president in the next election. However, the fact that it ended up being confrontational British filmmaker Nick Broomfield who fulfilled that public service was a pleasant surprise. Broomfield is known for taking on controversial topics involving cultural icons in films like Kurt And Courtney, Biggie And Tupac, and Heidi Fleiss: Hollywood Madam. Generally speaking, he heads out to create his films armed only with a camera, a microphone, a fascination with a topic, and a willingness to burn bridges, approach strangers, and embarrass himself to get the footage he needs. So how did the displaced Brit fair on the snow and controversy covered plains of Wasilla, Alaska? Hit the jump to find out.
The thing about Nick Broomfield movies is that they are as much about the creation of the film itself as the subject at hand. The director initially heads out to Palin’s hometown with an open mind, hoping to find out what rocketed the small town politician to the national spotlight. He collects antlers and swaps stories with Palin’s parents and even approaches Palin herself at a book signing with an interview request. She flashes her millions dollar smile and responds, “you betcha!” It seems like this might quickly become the easiest documentary of Broomfield’s career, but quickly that all changes. Broomfield fairly innocently interviews a local with some fairly banal negative things to say about Palin and almost instantly word gets back to her camp. Access to those in her inner circle disappears. Intrigued, Broomfield digs a little deeper and soon it becomes clear that everyone in the town is either two terrified to discuss the Palin’s or has been ostracized from the community for doing so (one woman received death threats for speaking out against the politician, but the local police refused to protect her house from violent Palin supporters because they feared the squad car might be damaged. Wonderful public service, don’t ya think?).
Without delving too deep into dreaded spoiler territory, it’s worth noting that Broomfield often doesn’t typically land the central interview when making these documentaries. However, for the most part he’s always able to create a more intriguing on complex portrait of his subjects by profiling the world surrounding them than he ever would through a direct interview. Sarah Palin-You Betcha! is no exception. Palin does appear several times in the film, but I won’t get into details. For the most part, the image of Palin that Broomfield forms is gathered from archival footage and interviews with a variety of people close to her and the results are pretty damn chilling.
Palin comes off as a vindictive, under-qualified, and ill-prepared politician. She frequently uses her power to settle personal vendettas, lies to the public, and even has a reputation for playing with her blackberry throughout important meetings. Her life is also frighteningly connected to her church (not unlike a certain former president and didn’t that turn out well), which is particularly extreme and known for discussing witchcraft as an actual enemy and banning books from libraries as if we still live in the McCarthy era. It’s a pretty frightening documentary portrait. One that won’t surprise people who have already been looking into Palin’s shortcomings too much, but should still unnerve by confirming their greatest fears.
Thankfully, the movie isn’t simply some damning collection of scare tactics. Broomfield may approach his work with a serious agenda, but he’s a very playful filmmaker. Palin has provided plenty of comedy fodder over the years and Broomfield is happy to add to her hilarious legacy. Hysterical archival footage of Palin’s bungled news anchor career is unearthed, while Broomfield himself gets into a variety of funny situations including openly negotiating participation fees with his subjects and wandering into political offices unannounced. Sarah Palin: You Betcha! is a damn funny movie that treats it’s subject with the inquisitive interest and irreverence that Mrs. Palin deserves.
If there’s a major downside to Sarah Palin: You Betcha,! its that the movie is destined to preach to the converted. Even though Broomfield openly goes into the project with an open mind, it’s pretty clear where he stands at the end and Palin’s frighteningly loyal supporters will likely dismiss the film outright as lefty propaganda. That’s really a shame because anyone who even considers voting for the pageant-winner-turned-politician should really be forced to watch this movie before making that decision. Sadly, it’s more likely that Palin’s people will just watch her embarrassingly self-serving doc The Undefeated instead. Still, if you feel like watching movies that will make you giggle until you become enraged, I can’t think of a better choice than Sarah Palin: You Betcha! Though he may have been able to dig a little deeper in a some of his previous movies, few of his subjects have deserved the Broomfield treatment quite as much as Palin. If Katie Couric could make that lady look the fool with a light reading question and a team of handlers around them, you can just imagine what Broomfield dug up with no one to answer to.