Director Duane Baughman Discusses the Making of Bhutto

May 10th, 2011

The day after Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, political consultant, film producer and director Duane Baughman was on the phone with his colleague Mark Siegel, who had been a close personal friend and confidante of Bhutto’s.

In their grief, the two hatched a plan to shoot a film about the Pakistani politician, and three months later they were in Islamabad, camera in hand, recording footage for Bhutto. Here, Baughman talks about the challenges of making the film and what still chokes him up to think about.

Bhutto airs tonight at 10 p.m. on THIRTEEN.

Interview courtesy of Independent Lens. For more interviews and other Independent Lens film content, visit their blog.

What impact do you hope this film will have?

I hope it will bring a more compassionate, moderate face to Islam and to open more eyes to Pakistan’s struggle and its daily significance to America, the West, Christianity, and women and girls everywhere.

What led you to make this film?

Like millions of others, I admired Benazir — her intelligence and independence, but mostly her bravery. My own mother’s strength has always been a model to me. The portrayal women heroes is difficult to find on film. Changing that is what motivated me.

My personal friendship with producer and close Bhutto family friend Mark Siegel provided the access that allowed me to pull back the curtain on a country and family whose indelible imprint on Pakistan has an everyday impact on the foreign policies of America and the West. My day job as an American political consultant stirred my interest in telling the unlikely story of a heroic woman whose life was a fascinating struggle between triumph and tragedy, between the forces of peace and violence, of moderation and extremism.

What were some of the challenges you faced in making this film?

Filming in Pakistan. Filming anything political in that country is difficult. Getting people to open up without fear of retribution from the entrenched establishment throws roadblocks in your way every day. Safety is always a concern. Our hotel, the Marriot in Islamabad was blown to the ground and 88 people were killed three days after we wrapped our first shoot in Pakistan (see the timeline for more on the 2008 bombing).

Searching for, uncovering, and then restoring hundreds of hours of never-before-heard-in-public audio tape of Benazir in her own voice was an incredible challenge that we embraced and wound up wrapping our entire narrative around. It allowed us to let people who never knew this woman get a real sense of who she was, her temperament, her tone, her personality, and leave with a truer grasp of what makes this very human woman tick.

How did you gain the trust of the subjects in your film?

Two words: Mark Siegel. This film absolutely would not have happened without him. A day after his close friends’ death, I was speaking with Mark and to be expected, he was absolutely inconsolable. I suggested to him that we put his grief to work by preserving Benazir’s legacy on film. Three months later we were shooting in what used to be Benazir’s living room.

What would you have liked to include in your film that didn’t make the cut?

More details about Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s two-plus years of imprisonment. How he used those hours to teach, tutor and literally transform his eldest child — through prison bars — into a political force rivaled only by Zulfiqar himself.

Tell us about a scene in the film that especially moved or resonated with you.

Seeing Asif Ali Zardari describe, for the first time on film, the moment he knew his wife was dead is especially emotional for me. Knowing that theirs was an arranged marriage, that he’d spent half of their marriage in jail, and to see the true love that had grown and was now lost: I still get choked up.

What has the audience response been so far? Have the people featured in the film seen it, and if so, what did they think?

We were the best reviewed doc at Sundance. Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Reuters, all gave thumbs up. But the best reviews came from Benazir’s children who all attended the premiere.

The independent film business is tough. What keeps you going?

The business isn’t so tough. Portraying subjects is. Starting and finishing anything offers its own great reward.

Why did you choose to present your film on public television?

ITVS/PBS/Independent Lens are revered forums. I’m honored to have our film presented on a network known for having the guts to tackle weighty issues.

What question have festival audiences asked you most?

“Who murdered Benazir?” Watch the film. You tell me.

What didn’t you get done when you were making your film?

My garden.

What are your three favorite films?

Glengarry Glen Ross. All the President’s Men. Lost Horizon.

What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers?

Tell a story only you can tell.

There are no craft services on an indie doc’s set. What sustains you on a shoot and in post-production?

A creatively made cheeseburger.