By John McCrank
TORONTO (Reuters) - Will the real Sarah Palin please stand up?
In "Sarah Palin: You Betcha," British filmmaker Nick Broomfield travels to Wasilla, Alaska -- the hometown of the gun-toting hockey mom, Tea Party activist, former Republican vice presidential nominee and now possible contender for the White House in 2012 -- to learn what she really is like.
What he finds, as depicted in "You Betcha," is an ambitious person who will do whatever it takes to win, and that knowledge is important, Broomfield said, because of Palin's current status as a cultural and political tastemaker.
"I felt that she was an interesting symbol of some of the changes that are happening in American politics at the moment and that she was representative of something bigger than just herself," Broomfield told Reuters at the Toronto International Film Festival, where the film premiered.
Broomfield interviews the former Alaska governor's parents, ex-friends and colleagues from her stint as mayor of Wasilla, where she hunted, fished and played sports while growing up.
"It was just to see what kind of influences she had and what people who knew her very well thought of her," he said.
Despite seeking out an interview with the 47 year-old Palin several times -- traveling around America to ask her at book signings and rallies and at one point being told by Palin, "I could do that, you betcha!" -- Broomfield never gets one.
TWO MOVIES, TWO PALINS
"You Betcha" follows another recent documentary about Palin, "The Undefeated," made by conservative filmmaker Stephen Bannon. That film uses readings from her book "Going Rogue" to narrate a triumphant tale of Palin's political rise.
But that movie was panned by most critics as too one-sided (for one thing, she lost her bid for vice president), and it flopped in the few movie theaters where played.
Some film industry watchers are similarly saying Broomfield took cheap shots at Palin, whether he meant to or not.
Time magazine's Gilbert Cruz wrote: "Palin's fear of media hit jobs prevent her or anyone in her corner from speaking out, so someone like Broomfield is forced to talk to people who dislike her, resulting in a media hit job."
Indeed, there are many interviews with people who say Palin "threw me under the bus," ultimately portraying her as an ambitious person who will do whatever it takes to win and who constantly turns on people who are close to her. Wasilla pastor Howard Bess calls her as "an apocalyptic Christian."
"She believes that she is God's anointed one, and until you understand that, I don't think that you understand Sarah Palin," he says in the movie.
Broomfield, who rented a house in Wasilla for a few months to get to know the locals in the community, said he talked to many who were happy to speak, but only off camera.
To make the point that he really wants to find willing experts on camera, he travels all the way to Alexandria, Egypt to speak to old classmates of Palin's who agree to be filmed.
"You Betcha" is the latest in a series of films Broomfield has done about iconic people, such as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, grunge rock couple Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love, and Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss.
The documentary uncovers nothing really new and largely focuses on Palin's life before she burst onto the U.S. political scene in 2008. But is she even the same person now?
"I'm sure she's the same person," Broomfield said. "I think Sarah Palin has left Wasilla, but I don't think Wasilla has left Sarah Palin, and that's the more frightening thing."
(Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)