‘Bhutto’ Examines Life of Charismatic, Complicated Leader

Benazir Bhutto from

Hardly a day goes by there isn’t a news bulletin out of Pakistan, the sixth most populous country in the world, be it a story connected to the war next door in Afghanistan, to the long-simmering hostility with another neighbor, India, or to political and security instability inside Pakistan itself.

A new documentary film about the life and death of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto — the first woman head of an Islamic country who was assassinated in 2007 — may attract as much interest for its political content as for its artistic or journalistic value; her husband Asif Ali Zardari is now the president of Pakistan, elected after her death.

Mark Siegel, a long-time Bhutto adviser and confidante (as well as American political consultant), teamed up with an unlikely partner, Democratic party email fundraiser Duane Baughman, to create the documentary for Independent Lens on PBS. “Bhutto” combines historical footage, news videos, a never-before-heard audio interview with Bhutto herself, and fresh interviews with journalists, Bhutto admirers, and adversaries — most notably, another former Prime Minister, General Pervez Musharraf. Put together, these ingredients tell the story of a charismatic and complicated family, alternately loved and rejected by the Pakistani people, a family whose story is intertwined with the life of the nation itself.

I got to see the film at a screening in Washington Tuesday night (which was attended by Bhutto’s sister Sanam), where I moderated a panel discussion with the filmmakers about their work.

[Click here to watch a video of that conversation]

Both Siegel and Baughman told me they want young girls living in Islamic countries to be aware of what Benazir Bhutto accomplished. And they want the world to know about the unfinished story of her life and legacy, and to recognize Pakistan’s potential as a nation.

It’s an ambitious goal, and this film — where harsh criticisms come wrapped inside a sympathetic portrait — begins a greater and longer conversation.

The film, “Bhutto,” will air on the upcoming season of Independent Lens.