New Film Paints Favorable Portrait of Sarah Palin

"The Undefeated," which will screen in Iowa and New Hampshire before opening nationwide next month, doesn't purport to be objective in its quest to improve the former governor's image

Palin speaking - Mario Anzuoni : Reuters - banner.jpg

A maverick politician who successfully challenged big oil companies and a corrupt Republican political establishment: That's the Sarah Palin portrayed in a documentary debuting this month in three states that hold early and critical votes in the presidential nominating process.

"The Undefeated," a two-hour film by Stephen Bannon, a maker of conservative cult classics, aims to rehabilitate what Bannon described as the "Caribou Barbie" image of Palin as she flirts with a run for the presidency. The 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee is one of the best-known Republicans in the field, according to a recent Pew poll, but 63 percent of respondents said they wouldn't vote for her.

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The movie does not purport to be objective: All of the interviews are with Palin loyalists. They present a flattering picture of Palin's unlikely rise from a blue-collar housewife to governor of Alaska (knocking off two much better-known politicians in the process) and her efforts to reform a political culture awash in oil money.

By focusing on her career as an Alaska politician, Bannon presents a sharply different image than the one Palin created for herself in the national arena. The candidate known for her "Drill, Baby, drill" mantra comes off in the movie as an environmentally-minded populist who fought successfully to impose a significant corporate tax hike on oil companies. One of President Obama's sharpest-tongued critics is depicted, in Alaska, as a non-partisan reformer who convinced Democrats as well as Republicans to back her reform measures.

Nothing about the film's rollout, which includes early screenings in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina before a commercial opening nationwide next month, will dampen the presidential speculation that Palin stoked last week with a high-profile bus tour that included a stop in New Hampshire, home of next year's first presidential primary.

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Bannon told reporters who screened a rough cut of the film in Washington last week that Palin had no editorial control over the movie. But she cooperated in its making, giving Bannon extensive access to friends and family. The movie includes never-before-seen family photos and home movies of Palin as a youngster, obtained, Bannon said, from her parents. Also featured extensive commentary by Palin's normally tight-lipped aides and former associates.

"I certainly hope she considers it," Bannon said of Palin running in 2012

The story of the movie's genesis reveals a longstanding effort by the Palin camp to find ways to burnish her image. Palin aides Tim Crawford and Rebecca Mansour initially approached him last fall about creating a series of YouTube videos on the former governor, Bannon said. He countered with a proposal to make a feature-length film. Bannon said he sought no participation from Palin but did ask her to give associates the green light to speak with him.

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Kathy Kiely is managing editor of politics at National Journal.

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