TORONTO – No one over the past three years has been a more polarizing figure in American politics than Sarah Palin. The former Vice Presidential candidate and Alaska Governor has transformed herself from a self-proclaimed “Hockey Mom” to a major media and political figure while alienating most of the country in the process. There have been many investigative and in-depth pieces on Palin during that time, but that didn’t stop British filmmaker Nick Broomfield (“Kurt and Courtney”) and his partner Joan Churchill (“Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer”) from trying to find out the “truth” about the “real” Sarah Palin in their new documentary “Sarah Palin – You Betcha!”
Debuting at the 2011 Toronto Film Festival today, “You Betcha!” is a mess of a documentary that is neither enlightening or entertaining. Broomfield and his crew spend most of their time in Palin’s hometown of Wasilla, Alaska interviewing family, friends and former friends (well, very few of them to be honest). Things look promising at the beginning as Broomfield is surprisingly able to befriend Palin’s parents, Charles and Sally Heath, but the continuing “joke” of the picture is how difficult it is to get Palin to actually talk to them. It all feels like a documentary you’ve seen many times before.
Seemingly because of his lack of access, Broomfield goes through every contemporary doc trick in the book. He takes a tour of Wasilla from a Palin supporter. He ventures into Wasilla city hall to try and see what her Mayoral office was like (she supposedly had it redecorated at great expense, but he never gets in). He tries to interview former employees, but either they are staying quiet to promote their own tell-all books (such as Frank Bailey) or they are, well, not that interesting. In fact, the only intriguing part of the doc is Broomfield’s interview with Mike Wooten, the centerpiece of the infamous Troopergate scandal.
Wooten was Palin’s brother-in-law and an Alaskan state trooper. However, when he divorced Palin’s sister Molly McCann, Palin and her husband Todd did everything in their power to try and have him fired from his job (so much for thinking about child support for their niece or nephew). In fact, the doc makes the point that it was their priority after Sarah was inaugurated as Governor. Wooten hasn’t spoken on record about this before and it’s clear their attempt to destroy his life hardly succeeded. And yet, Broomfield can’t get anyone else that compelling in Wasilla or most of Alaska to go on record about Palin because of deep fears of retaliation from the Tea Party favorite’s family or Palin’s “flying monkeys.” Inspired by the “Wizard of Oz,” these Palin fans are so passionate they will use the internet and public measures to get back at people they believe are enemies of Palin. This sounds like it would make a fascinating study in itself, but Broomfield barely touches upon on it. He seems set, instead, on structuring the doc on landing that formal interview with Palin which the viewer clearly realizes is never going to happen. Broomfield does speak to Palin on camera for a few minutes at two book signings and crashes a few of her speaking engagements, but these moments tend to make him look more like a creepy stalker than a crusading journalist.
This isn’t to say, however, the documentary isn’t a reminder of Palin’s vindictive and strident politics. The glaring and recent fact she never apologized for the gun sights on Congresswoman Gabby Giffords district and her continued used of the phrase “lock and load” show a disturbing lack of humility. Can you remember the last time Palin admitted she’d made a mistake politically? Or when she admitted she was insensitive? Again, great points Broomfield has little interest in really pursuing.
Acquired by Freestyle Releasing, “Sarah Palin – You Betcha!” is set for release on Sept. 30. Unfortunately, you won’t discover anything new that you couldn’t find on Wikiepdia, by watching a few years of CNN or major network news profiles. In this case, “Lamestream media” might need to be modified to “Lamestream filmmakers.”