Film and TV

Who is Stephen Bannon? An Interview with the Director of The Undefeated

The Undefeated, which opens today, has already been panned, and panned hard. We agree with our reviewer that the movie is basically a Palin Rally in film form, but when Amy Siskind of The Huffington Post gives her review the headline "The Movie I Wish Hillary Had Made," there's a need for pause.

"I didn't make this movie for Palinistas," director and producer Stephen Bannon tells Art Attack. "I made this for middle America. There's a meme out there put forth by the mainstream media that she's 'Caribou Barbie,' that she's a bimbo, and the empirical evidence is the exact opposite."

The film follows Palin as she takes on big oil, a corrupt administration and eventually becomes Alaska's first female governor, as well as gaining an 80 percent approval rating by the time she teamed up with McCain in 2008.

There is a lot of staged and stock footage (kids in classrooms raising their hands when referencing school funding, lions eating zebras as a metaphor for innocence slaughtered) that makes the movie look more than a little propagandistic, but from the beginning, the film addresses the issue of sexism in politics, an issue important to women regardless of what side of the aisle they hail from.

"Some of the biggest proponents of the film are liberal women," Bannon says, noting the Amy Siskind piece.

The Palin hate, in fact, gets pretty extreme, and the film presents us with people wearing t-shirts that say "Sarah Palin is a Cunt," images of Palin being crucified, Facebook groups of people who say they want to kill her.

"It's meant to shock people," Bannon says. "I put that in there for a very specific reason, I want the audience to know in the first 30 or 60 seconds of the movie, you're not at home watching PBS."

But who exactly is Stephen Bannon?

A former naval officer and Goldman Sachs banker, Bannon went into filmmaking after becoming acquainted with the business through financing and production. He's also helmed conservative docs Battle for the America and Fire from the Heartland . Talking to him is a bit like talking to a good-natured conservative uncle. His voice is soft and stays that way, even when talking politics. He is quick to point out that he's a capitalist (he notes this to us at least three times during the interview and references Stalinist Russia), and he skirts any suggestion that the film might be propaganda.

"That term gets thrown around, but people on the right call Michael Moore a propagandist, I just say whether it's Stanley Kramer or John Ford or Michael Moore, every filmmaker comes in with a point of view," he says. "I'm a populist conservative, and I come at things with a very strong point of view, just like Michael Moore does. I don't think Michael Moore's films are propaganda."

But Bannon's style isn't like that of Moore, who uses in-depth, in-person interviews, location shoots and who likes to place himself in the middle of the action to advance a story. Bannon, instead, used audio from Palin's reading of her book Going Rogue as narration and relies heavily on stock footage.

There's a reason he didn't approach Palin for the movie, he says: "I didn't want her to put spin on it," he says. "I didn't want a retrospective. It's very different when you ask someone in retrospect what happened."

But whose minds will this movie really change? And what will it change? Even if it changes people's minds about Sarah Palin, does it really have the clout, the skill or the artistry to change their votes? I guess we'll have to wait until Palin actually makes her decision to find out.

The Undefeated is in limited release today at AMC Theatres Gulf Pointe, 11801 South Sam Houston Parkway East. Call 888-262-4386 for information and showtimes.

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