PELLA, IOWA – They sure do movie premieres funny around here.
There was no red carpet and no bright lights – it wasn’t even dark yet. And the biggest celebrity in attendance, Sarah Palin, decided at the last moment not to pull up to the theater in an SUV but to park it around the corner and stroll down the street unannounced. She was about 50 yards out when the media hordes noticed and repositioned their cameras.
Palin was in Pella – population 10,000 – for the world premiere of The Undefeated, a documentary about her political career. She was dressed casually in bellbottom jeans and a shiny, silver belt, and was accompanied by her husband, Todd.
That Palin was in Iowa at all – and on the same day as President Obama and presidential candidate Michelle Bachman — was newsworthy in itself, given the importance of the battleground state in the 2012 election. That the occasion was a movie premiere amped up the hype factor.
But the press and supporters will have to wait to hear Palin’s decision on whether she’ll be a candidate, because she dodged the question each time it was asked of her at Tuesday night’s premiere.
Another way it was easy to discern that this event was different from the usual premiere in liberal Hollywood? Some attendees wore pro-Palin hats and T-shirts and an equal number wore gear that disparaged Obama. A little boy who hasn’t quite mastered spelling held a sign reading, “We ‘heart’ you Sara,” and standing next to him was an adult with a T-shirt reading “Hope and change – my ass.”
Inside the theater, the Pella Opera House, an organist played “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and the audience sang along. There was a prayer, then The Pledge of Allegiance led by a U.S. Army reservist who was applauded when introduced.
Despite announcing the day prior that press wouldn’t be allowed in the theater during show time, a few reporters obtained last-minute seats or standing-room at the back of the theater.
The film started with a bang: a montage of Hollywood celebrities – some using foul language – to criticize Palin, and the pro-Palin audience seemed to relish the reminder that they aren’t exactly in sync with the showbiz crowd.
After some cutesy home-movie footage of Palin as a child, the film settles into some slower chapters, with lots of discussion of Alaska energy policy when she was governor there and how she took on the Republican establishment that was in bed with Big Oil, according to the film.
The crowd was attentive during this mid-section of the film, but it didn’t come alive again until the third act, when Palin was chosen as Sen. John McCain’s vice presidential running mate in 2008. In the movie, parts of Palin’s acceptance speech are mingled with political commentary from Andrew Breitbart, Mark Levin and others, and this section is replete with applause lines for a sympathetic audience.
“I couldn’t stop listening. I thought, ‘Where has this woman been?’” says Levin. And Breitbart sums up the theme of the film when he talks about Big Media going after Palin with “a special level of ferocity,” then he calls Republicans too timid to defend Palin “eunuchs,” repeating the charge multiple times. If the Pella audience missed a few of Breitbart’s “eunuch” mentions it was because they were clapping over them.
Another media personality earning applause was CNBC’s Rick Santelli, whose famous TV rant, shown in the film, is credited with igniting the Tea Party movement. Earning hisses from the Pella audience were clips from Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews.
As the credits rolled, the sound was shut off and Palin stood in front of the screen, thanked the audience and filmmaker Steve Bannon, and gave what sounded like a short speech someone would give if they were running for president. She even talked about “hope.”
“Not the hopey-changey stuff that you heard about a few years ago, but real hope,” she said. “And you know where real hope comes from? Real hope comes from when you realize what it is that God has blessed this country with.”
After Palin, Breitbart earned some laughs by quickly recounting his part in revealing the Anthony Weiner sexting scandal, using the occasion to ridicule the mainstream media: “You can either report the truth, or we can, I don’t know, barrel through you, and you’ll be on the unemployment lines like so many other Americans unfortunately are.”
About 340 people attended the screening, and Palin joined them and some 700 more for a barbecue after the show. As she made her way out of the theater, The Hollywood Reporter asked her to respond to the ridicule from Hollywood celebrities that she witnessed on screen.
“It makes you want to reach out to some of these folks and say, ‘What’s your problem?’” Palin said. “What would make a celebrity, like you saw on screen, so hate someone that they’d seek their destruction, their death, the death of their children? What would make someone be so full of hate?”