"Sarah Palin is a very special woman. She has a tranquility about her, no matter what the situation is," this is how Elan Frank, a California-based Israeli filmmaker, chooses to describe the Republican Party's newly chosen vice-presidential hopeful.
Frank shadowed Palin, who is the presiding governor of Alaska, for three days some three months ago, as part of a documentary he made about extraordinary women around the world.
Frank, 52, has been living in Los Angeles for the past 12 years. He first visited Alaska in 1983, when he was given a year's leave from the Israeli Air Force, where he served as a fighter pilot.
"I made it a point to come back to Alaska every three years or so, since. It's a very hard country. The real final frontier. They have seven men for every woman, so I thought about making a film about women in Alaska. I did some research, and then I thought – 'well, why focus only on Alaska? Why not focus on women worldwide and make a film about women empowerment?'"
Frank sent film crews to Nepal and the Negev, to follow two extraordinary women, and decided to follow three Alaskan women himself – a teacher, a pilot and the new governor.
"I wasn't planning on focusing on famous characters, but Palin's story is so unique I decided to include her. She is the first woman of Alaska, which isn’t something to be treated lightly; not to mention a former beauty queen, basketball player, fisherwoman and hunter – and a mother of four (Frank's film followed Palin before she has her fifth child). I saw something amazing there," he said.
He contacted Palin four months ago, and according to him she found his idea riveting. He was in the midst of planning his trip to Alaska when he got a phone call from Palin, who was in LA and wanted to meet him.
"I met her in my Hollywood office and we talked for over an hour… we instantaneously clicked and we had a blast. The funny thing is," he added, "that a few days later I got an email from a friend in Alaska telling me she was seven months pregnant. I didn’t notice a thing until later, when we were filming.
"I guess she's one of those women you can't really when they're pregnant, and she was probably dressing to hide it a little. You wouldn't know to look for it."
About a month after the meeting in Los Angeles, Frank and his video camera showed up on Palin's doorstep. "I went by myself because I wanted to have the chance to create real intimacy," he said. he ended up following Palin around for three days, filming nearly five hours of raw footage.
Striking woman. Palin with Frank (photo courtesy of the Governor of Alaska Press Office)
"I would get up in the morning, drive to her office and just follow her around all day. The amazing thing was that she never asked me to stop filming. I was there for everything – the phone calls and the meetings – and she would answer any question I had, she was very cooperative."
Frank also recorded Palin at home. "I have her with her family, making sandwiches for her daughter after school, watching television. I spoke to her husband and asked him about how it feels to be married to such a dominant woman. I have the two of them talking about private matters. I was able to catch very intimate moments on film. She even played the flute for me."
Palin is charming, he continued. "She struck me as an honest, direct person. She's under a lot of pressure but she always has time for everyone."
When asked about Palin's past support of Pat Buchanan, whose anti-Israeli views are common knowledge, Frank said that Palin's support of Buchanan stemmed from his positions in other issues, and that she did not agree with his views of Israel.
"She had an Israeli flag, of all the things, mounted on her office wall, and I have that on film" he said. "I was very surprised to see that and when I asked her about it, she said that she loves Israel and the she had friends who visited the country and brought her the flag."
Palin, according to Frank, has clear political aspiration, but he did not dwell on them on the movie. "I didn’t ask about politics because I didn’t want to stir away from my (movie) plan, but she definitely struck me as someone who wants to move ahead. She's the over-achiever type."
The announcement that Republican presidential hopeful John McCain chose the little-known Alaska governor for his running mate came as a surprise to Frank. "I knew she was shortlisted but her name wasn’t the one that came popping up. all of a sudden, I turn on the TV and see her photo. I was elated, it's like my best friend was picked for the job."
Frank is now looking into the possibility of filing a second documentary, shadowing Palin until election day. in light of the nomination, he added, he has also been approached by various media groups, which are interested in the footage he already has.
"I have a lot of authentic footage that shows who she really is. You can tell a lot about her from that. She really is one of us."