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TIFF, Day 6: Where Did Everybody Go?

Crowds thin out, ”Sarah Palin – You Betcha“ is genial claptrap, and ”Undefeated“ is far better than the last doc with that name

What a difference a day makes.

All weekend long, and on Monday as well, lines were enormous for both public screenings and industry screenings at the Toronto International Film Festival.

On Tuesday morning, that changed. While the public still turned out in large numbers for TIFF debuts like Whit Stillman's "Damsels in Distress," Drake Doremus' "Like Crazy," Bruce Beresford's "Peace, Love & Misunderstanding" and Jim Field Smith's "Butter," the crowds thinned out hugely at the Scotiabank multiplex, home to most of the fest's press and industry screenings.

The industry crowd, it seems, it starting to leave town, making things significantly easier for those of us who remain – though in my case, it just meant a trio of comfortably uncrowded morning and afternoon screenings before I did one final interview and then headed to the airport.

Sarah Palin -- You Betcha!The day began with what seemed at a cursory glance to be an unlikely Sarah Palin double bill: the documentaries "Sarah Palin – You Betcha!" and "Undefeated."

But while the first of those films is indeed about the controversial former Alaska governor and vice-presidential candidate, the latter is not the pro-Palin doc called "Undefeated" that drew negative reviews and scant business during its brief and selective theatrical release in conservative strongholds earlier this year.

This other "Undefeated" is about high-school football in Tennessee; it's also one of the strongest and most moving documentaries I saw in Toronto.

But first, a few words about the real Palin movie. Intermittently humorous and fairly effective in parts, "Sarah Palin – You Betcha!" is a tongue-in-cheek, antagonistic take on the Palin story from British documentarian Nick Broomfield, whose other films include "Biggie & Tupac" and "Kurt & Courtney."

Broomfield has long been something of a controversial figure himself, and the problem in "You Betcha!" comes with the director's tactics, which are reminiscent of Michael Moore at his broadest.

Frequently on camera, and working a plaid hat with big earflaps for all its worth, Broomfield spends much of the movie acting baffled at being denied access that it's perfectly clear no politician – not just Palin – would want to give him.

"You Betcha!" poses as an attempt by Broomfield to get an interview with Palin and her family and friends – and only after failing that, he wants us to believe, did he turn to former colleagues who portray Palin as petty and vindictive and always ready to play the victim.

Depending on what you think of Palin (I'm not a fan), this is either vicious liberal media bias or genial hogwash. Broomfield still manages to make some of the charges stick, but the approach doesn’t do the film or the filmmaker any favors; instead, it strains our credulity and makes the director look more like a buffoon than a journalist.

In the non-Palin "Undefeated," meanwhile, filmmakers Dan Lindsay and T.J. Martin stay completely in the background. Their film is a season-long fly-on-the-wall chronicle of the football team at Manassas High School, a public school in an impoverished section of Memphis.

Long considered a doormat by more privileged schools, Manassas has slowly built a strong program with the help of a caring and curiously charismatic volunteer coach, Bill Courtney, whose motto is "football doesn’t build character, it reveals  character."

UndefeatedShepherding a team full of young men from broken homes whose lives sit on a knife-edge between near-certain calamity and slivers of opportunity, Courtney is part coach, part father and part shrink to his players, and too often a phantom to his own family.

"Undefeated," which the Weinstein Company will release later this year, is a different kind of sports movie, with a different story arc from what you might expect. (Trust me, the title doesn’t give anything away.) Lindsay and Martin got remarkable access, found the best stories and let them play out; "Undefeated" is not a flashy doc, but it's profoundly inspirational without being heavy-handed or cheesy.

The film only drew about a half house to its press and industry screening on Tuesday morning – but in my six days and 11 P&Is, it was the first film I saw that was followed by applause from the industry audience. (TIFF's public screenings, on the other hand, always  end in applause.)

One final note: those P&I audiences are notoriously fickle, with buyers and media who don't like what they're seeing always ready to exit the theater and find a different film. Madonna's "W.E.," for instance, reportedly lost half its audience by the time it ended.

But Paddy Considine's "Tyrannosaur" set a new recorded for the fastest exit I've ever seen in Toronto. The film begins with a drunk played by Peter Mullan staggering out of a bar, yelling at the patrons (or staff) within and then giving his recalcitrant dog a couple of vicious kicks.

The instant that happened, the couple sitting in front of me got up and headed for the exit; they were out the door before the film's opening credits even began, and within two minutes they were followed by another patron.

For the record, "Tyrannosaur" is tough and tender and unexpectedly moving. It's not always an easy sit, but I found it to be a rewarding one.

Also for the record, I didn't see any walkouts when Wallis Simpson's husband kicks her just as viciously in "W.E.," or when a female character in "Tyrannosaur" gets a couple of brutal beatings of her own.