ABC’s Michael Falcone (@michaelpfalcone) reports:
Sarah Palin can claim credit for popularizing the idea of Mama Grizzlies — a symbol for strong conservative women — but in the new documentary film about her, there’s an even more striking image.
Buttressing a segment of the two-hour-long movie focusing on the barrage of ethics complaints and charges of financial mismanagement aimed at Palin when she returned to Alaska after the 2008 election, is a brief but gruesome clip of a pack of lions hunting down and devouring a zebra, ruthlessly ripping apart its flesh. (Palin was never convicted of any wrongdoing.)
It is a not-so-subtle metaphor for how, in the filmmaker’s interpretation, Palin’s detractors in Alaska, her foes in the media and enemies in the political establishment showed her no mercy during her rise to national political prominence.
The footage is emblematic of the larger narrative the film’s director, Stephen Bannon, creates in “The Undefeated,” which will premiere later this month in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada — states chosen for their importance in the presidential nominating process.
Several news organizations, including ABC News, were offered the chance to screen the movie before its public release and ask questions of Bannon, who said that he did not interview Palin during the making of the movie.
Bannnon showed the film to Palin and her husband, Todd, in Arizona last month and, by the former Alaska governor’s own account, she was “blown away.”
It’s an “amazing American story of American grit,” Bannon told reporters after one of the screenings last week.
The film includes no fresh quotes from Palin, herself, but Bannon used her words from the audio version of her book, “Going Rogue,” to help narrate the movie. The story line, which follows a mostly chronological path from Palin’s childhood to her election as mayor of Wasilla, governor of Alaska and subsequent nomination as the Republican Party’s vice presidential candidate in 2008, is punctuated by a series of interviews with Palin supporters.
Their testimonials are meant to be, as Bannon put it, a “Greek chorus,” adding personal recollections to the plot line and amplifying the movie’s broader themes – the most prominent of which is victimization.
The chorus includes Palin’s former long-time spokesman Meghan Stapleton, conservative media figures Andrew Brietbart and Tammy Bruce, former gubernatorial aide Kurt Gibson and Tea Party politician Jamie Radtke, among others.
The documentary begins with visual and audio clips of pundits (everyone from Joan Rivers to Howard Stern) and Palin-haters disparaging her, some of whom use language so crude that Bannon said the film is “X-rated.” (Technically, it’s unrated but the producers plan to scrub it down to PG-13 for a wider release.)
It begins with never-before-seen baby pictures of Palin and home movies of her childhood provided by Palin’s parents, Chuck and Sally Heath. The movie shows how even as mayor of Wasilla, Palin was something of a lightening rod with critics comparing her to a “Spice Girl,” and accusing her of “spending money like Nordstrom’s girl.”
The film’s re-telling of her accomplishments as mayor of Wasilla and governor of Alaska portrays her as a courageous and unconventional figure willing to take on the political establishment — even in those early years. Palin is shown battling oil industry CEO’s as governor — forcing them to open up new areas of the state to drilling. She eschews the “smoke filled rooms” of deal-making and comes across as a fighter for the people.
“Very much like a Marine, Sarah Palin tends to run toward the danger,” talk radio host Tammy Bruce says in the movie.
In the film, Stapleton blames her eventual resignation as governor on the use of “Saul Alinsky tactics” on the part of her opponents — a reference to the liberal community organizer who wrote the book “Rules for Radicals.”
Bannon said he came away from the movie-making process with the sense that Sarah Palin was as smart and savvy as the best politicians. As he put it, Bannon wanted the film to “drive a stake in the heart of Caribou Barbie.”
“You can’t understand the meaning of Sarah Palin unless you understand the stewardship of Governor Palin,” he added.
Andrew Brietbart notes that Palin represents an “existential threat” to the established political order, especially within the Republican Party. “Thank god she refuses to accept the premise of her own destruction,” he says during one of his testimonials in the film.
According to the film, Palin is both a hero of the Tea Party and the second coming of Ronald Reagan. A “coda” segment at the end juxtaposes images of Reagan and Palin, highlighting the similarities between the two.
Bannon said two Palin confidantes, Tim Crawford and Rebecca Mansour, first approached him about making the movie shortly after the 2010 midterm election. They provided him with access to contacts and sources, but he emphasized that they had little contact as the film was being produced. It was “totally uncoordinated,” he said.
“I’m not a buddy, I’m not a friend,” he said, “I’m a filmmaker.”