PARK CITY, Utah (Reuters) - Westerners seeking to understand the volatility of modern Pakistan are getting a good look at the country in a new movie examining the life and legacy of slain leader Benazir Bhutto, screening at the Sundance Film Festival this week .
Documentary “Bhutto” has earned solid reviews with its tale of the former prime minister, her family and husband, who is currently facing calls to step down as president of the nuclear-armed nation.
Bhutto, the first female leader of a Muslim country, was killed by a suicide bomber in late 2007 after returning from exile to seek the country’s leadership for the third time.
Her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, took over the presidency shortly after, and opponents are calling for him to step down due to corruption charges dating to Bhutto’s reign.
In looking at the Bhutto family’s legacy, the producers hope westerners might better understand a country dominating headlines with tales of political strive and Muslim extremism.
“The importance of Pakistan, the strategic importance as the only Muslim nation with nuclear weapons capability, and roiling in turmoil...it absolutely can’t be ignored,” said Duane Baughman, who along with Mark Siegel conceived of and produced the film.
Siegel, who appears extensively in the documentary, was working on Bhutto’s campaign as a U.S. spokesman when she was killed and quickly sought to show the significance of her life to U.S. audiences.
“Benazir was truly the modern face of Islam,” said Siegel.
Using archived news clips and interviews with Bhutto’s family, allies and even opponents, “Bhutto” is in many ways a history of Pakistan itself, told through the lens of the Bhutto family’s politics for most of the country’s 62-year existence.
Directed by Jessica Hernandez and Johnny O’Hara, the film focuses early on the influence of Bhutto’s father, former Prime Minister and President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who defied convention by insisting his daughter get an education and not forcing her to wear the traditional Muslim burqa.
She forged a political career after his execution in 1979 at the hands of dictator Mohammad Zia ul-Haq, who overthrew him two years earlier. She became the leader of his Pakistan People’s Party in 1984, and prime minister four years later.
Her progressive stances on democracy and social development put Bhutto at odds with the conservative Muslim establishment, and both of her terms were cut short by corruption charges which continued to dog her and Zardari.
The charges are not investigated in detail in “Bhutto,” but interviews are shown with opponents including former President Pervez Musharraf, and Fatima Bhutto, daughter of Benazir’s brother Murtaza whose death in 1996 was suspicious.
Reviews at Sundance were good with The Hollywood Reporter saying “‘Bhutto’ will find a natural home at international and political-leaning (festivals) with broadcast (television) its likely ultimate destination.”
That should come as good news to Siegel and Baughman, who said they are eager to see reaction from western audiences.
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Cynthia Osterman