Riveting “Bhutto”

by E. "Doc" Smith on May 14, 2010

As beloved by the people of her native Pakistan as she was reviled by the nation’s military establishment and male-dominated ruling class, Benazir Bhutto remains a symbolic metaphor for the fight between terrorism and moderation that is being played out on the world stage today. Benazir remains a polarizing force in the Muslim world even two years after her death from a suicide bomber’s attack on December 27, 2007. Hers was a turbulent three-decade run through the storm of Pakistani politics during which Bhutto enjoyed unprecedented outpourings of love and hate, triumph and tragedy, devotion by the people of Pakistan and rejection by the forces that most feared her. Benazir’s fascinating, oft-wrenching story reads like a Greek tragedy and is captured in the riveting documentary feature Bhutto that had its world premiere in the U.S. Documentary Feature competition at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, and its Canadian Premiere at Hot Docs.

Bhutto is directed by Duane Baughman and Johnny O’Hara and produced by Baughman, Mark Siegel, and Arleen Sorkin. The film casts an unblinking lens on the first woman ever elected to lead a Muslim state and uncovers the back story of the world’s most strategically important country – Pakistan – the Muslim world’s sole nuclear power, and the epicenter of the international War on Terror. The music for the film was composed and performed by Mader, Herb Graham Jr., along with special guest performance by Stewart Copeland, the renowned film & TV composer and drummer of the Police and Bakhtawar Bhutto Zardari.

As the fast-paced Bhutto makes clear, Benazir Bhutto’s life and reign of power were marked by contradictions and questions as she wrestled from her first minute in office, with a male-dominated society and an entrenched military establishment leading up to her final act of courage that resulted in her unsolved murder at age 54.

Bhutto opens as Benazir Bhutto is about to walk back into the lions’ den after eight years of self- imposed exile in London, New York and Dubai amid a swirl of politically-motivated corruption charges. The very night of her triumphant return, a double-suicide bombing assassination attempt killed 170 of her supporters. “We will continue to meet the public,” she said defiantly after narrowly escaping. “We will not be deterred.”After a breathtaking opening flashback, Bhutto serves up an eye-opening dose of Pakistan’s tumultuous 62-year existence, its frequent violent clashes with India, and the Benazir’s own family history that runs deep in the DNA of Pakistan’s feudal past.

Born on June 21, 1953, Benazir Bhutto credits her father, the iconic former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, for being “against the gender constraints of my time. My father always said that boys and girls are equal. He wanted me to have the same opportunities,” Bhutto recalls in her own words.

After having studied at Harvard and Oxford in anticipation of a quiet life in foreign service, Bhutto was unceremoniously thrust into politics when her father – the first democratically elected President of Pakistan — was overthrown in a military coup by his hand-picked Army Chief, Gen. Zia ul-Huq. In April 1979, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was hanged in a “judicial assassination.” Bhutto shows us, from that moment on, how Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s eldest child dedicated her life to avenging his death, and restoring not only the Bhutto name in Pakistan, but democracy.

Referred to as the “Kennedy’s of Pakistan”, privilege, violence, controversy, and untimely death remain the hallmark of the Bhutto legacy. Benazir Bhutto’s first election victory came under the banner of her martyred father’s popular Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) in 1988. Her first government was removed in a military-backed coup in 1990. She rose again in 1993 but was toppled by the power elite in 1996. She would see both of her beloved brothers die mysteriously at the hand of others, with Shanahwaz the youngest poisoned in France, and Murtaza the first born son, gunned down in a shootout on a Pakistani street. Both murders remain unsolved.

Director/Producer Duane Baughman points out how Bhutto’s relationship with her father, and his execution, transformed her. “At that point she was an unstoppable force. Her life’s purpose became avenging her father’s dream for the people of Pakistan and that started and ended with democracy,” said Baughman. “And the fact that she was a young woman in the Muslim world staring down the same dictator who hanged her father, only makes the story that much more riveting.”

Using newly uncovered, never heard in public audio tape, Benazir tells her own story in her own voice. The film features exclusive, heart-wrenching interviews, just three months after her assassination, with her immediate family, including widower soon-to-be President Asif Ali Zardari, son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, daughters Bakhtawar Bhutto Zardari and Assefa Bhutto Zardari, and sister Sanam Bhutto.

Other interviewees include authors Tariq Ali (“The Clash of Fundamentalisms”) and Christina Lamb (“Waiting For Allah”), Victoria Schofield (“Bhutto”) as well as former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, Benazir’s co-author and friend Mark Siegel, diplomat Peter Galbraith, Arianna Huffington, and Reza Aslan. “This film shows that Benazir Bhutto was a more complex and historically unique figure than people may’ve realized,” says producer Mark Siegel, an expert on the politics and history of Pakistan. “She was an extraordinary bridge between cultures, continents and religions selflessly accepting a political mantel she never wanted, and a responsibility she never sought.”

“Sacrificing personal happiness to public service, she became an icon of change and hope to half a billion Muslim women around the world. And as a champion of a modern Islam that is tolerant, pluralistic and democratic with unlimited possibilities for women, she became the Jihadists’ worst nightmare. What is most fascinating is the love and hatred this woman generated around the world and the extent some would go to destroy her and what she embodied. Politically and personally her life was a plethora of contradictions and contrasts that are captured in this film. Like with John Kennedy and Anwar Sadat, we will always wonder what she could have accomplished had she lived,” concluded Siegel.

From the heart-pounding opening sequence, the film leaves no doubt that Pakistan remains in the throes of Jihad. Fifty percent of the country is under 18 years old, and is 97% Muslim. 60% of its citizens live on under $2 a day, but the military machine controls every aspect of political life. The South Asian nation remains a powder-keg with a nuclear arsenal of 90 armed warheads, averaging three terrorist attacks a week since Bhutto’s death two years ago.

E. “Doc” Smith is a musician and recording artist with Edgetone Records, who has worked with the likes of Brian Eno, Madonna, Warren Zevon and Mickey Hart among others. He is also the inventor of the musical instrument, the Drummstick. He can be reached via http://edgetonerecords.com/edoctorsmith.html

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