“The Undefeated” could be considered an interesting title for a film about Sarah Palin, a woman who lost the 2008 presidential campaign as Sen. John McCain’s running mate.
To filmmaker and Laguna Beach resident Stephen K. Bannon, the title is far from ironic.
“The reason I wanted to make it was that I was tired of people on Wall Street and in Washington calling her ‘Caribou Barbie’,” he said.
The documentary, which opened in theaters July 15, follows Palin’s entry into the American political landscape — her time as the mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, her stint as governor, her designation as the first Republican woman nominated for the vice presidency and her popularity within the tea party movement.
A former investment banker, Bannon is no stranger to film or to conservative politics.
The co-founder of the National Tea Party Federation, he wrote and directed “Fire from the Heartland,” a film about Rep. Michele Bachmann, and “Generation Zero,” which is about the financial collapse in America.
Rebecca Mansour, an aide who works for Palin, reached out to Bannon regarding video production. Bannon told Mansour he didn’t do commercials, but he did have an idea for a film.
The first few minutes of the film show the way Palin has been crucified by the media and the public, Bannon said, and it may be hard for some to watch.
“I wanted to grab the audience by the throat and shake them out of their complacency,” he said.
Bannon feels Palin is dismissed by detractors because of her gender.
Democrats and even many Republicans don’t take the former Alaska governor seriously, he said.
“I really dug down and got to the roots of what a successful executive she’d been. I get irritated that people treat them like bimbos,” Bannon said, also referring to Michele Bachmann.
Gerrie Schipske, executive director of the Democratic Party of Orange County, said that although she doesn’t agree with Palin’s politics, she believes that women politicians struggle to get the same respect as their male counterparts.
“The bottom line is that I do not support her or her huckster antics and misguided views on public policy, but I will concede that a portion of her vilification stems from her being female,” Schipske, a Long Beach city councilwoman, said in an email. “We are still not comfortable in this society with women who have the ‘ovaries’ to take power. There are many who feel that women need to be in the background and not take the spotlight.”
Although Palin gave her endorsement of the film in an interview with Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren, she was not interviewed for or given any creative control over the film.
The film uses archival footage — home videos, public speeches and videos from her campaigns.
“I didn’t want to interview her. This is not a PBS documentary,” Bannon said. “This is a drama. I put people in the seat of Gov. Palin.”
Tom Pollitt, a founder of the Newport Mesa Tea Party, took a seat recently at The Block at Orange for a showing of the film.
Pollitt said the film educated him on the Palin that Alaska knows.
“The media played it up as if she was doing all these illegal things and unethical things,” he said. “From the movie’s point of view, it showed that she changed the political climate in Alaska.”
He walked out with more respect for her, he said.
However, the film has had its fair share of dissenters.
Kyle Smith of the New York Post, the first critic to see it, called it “so outlandishly partisan that it makes Richard Nixon look like Abraham Lincoln.”
Conor Friedersdorf, associate editor at The Atlantic, attended a midnight showing at The Block to find that he was the sole viewer.
Friedersdorf mentioned at one point that a couple wandered in — to make out. Another group of girls — tourists — entered during the previews, not knowing what the film was about.
His article, which ran on the film’s opening day, questioned the big turnout in Orange County that Bannon and his team were projecting.
Bannon said he was not surprised that people didn’t attend a midnight showing.
“I made the film, and I would not go see it at 12:30 at night,” he said.
The filmmaker is proud of the turnout and said “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” which opened the same weekend, didn’t affect turnout for “The Undefeated” because the films appeal to different audiences.
“Orange County that weekend was packed. They had to move it to a bigger theater,” he said. “It did $11,000 per screen. We actually extended for another week there.”
Bannon said he’s going to try to schedule a showing in Laguna Beach. The film is not playing in Orange County theaters any longer.