PARK CITY An ambitious documentary featured at this week's Sundance Film Festival is taking a dual-track approach to delve into the fascinating life of Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan's assassinated former prime minister.
Jessica Hernandez and Johnny O'Hara's “Bhutto,” in competition at the major independent film showcase in the mountains of Utah, examines the many contours of Bhutto's life, a woman as loved as she was controversial.
But it also goes a step further, managing in just under two hours to place her tragic story in the broader context of Pakistan's history and its troubled relations with rival neighbour India after independence.
“That was the most difficult thing - making sure that we are giving you an enormous amount of information,” co-director Hernandez told AFP. “And to make it entertaining was the only way to do that.”
Ultra-slick editing, dynamic music and graphics, animation - the directors pulled out all the stops to captivate their audience.
Producer Duane Baughman was quick to acknowledge that his “goal was to make it as commercial, as active, as exciting, as moving as commercial movies.”
It may be 115 minutes on the silver screen, but “that was the very minimum to get the story,” he added.
“We don't feel like there is anything extraneous in there that we could have cut without losing something. Of course, every filmmaker feels that, but when you are talking about a country and a person, it's pretty tough.”
And yet the highly polished, produced aspect of “Bhutto” manages not to take away from its documentary strength.
The entire Bhutto family, friends and biographers sketch the portrait of a female figure who twice clinched victory as prime minister - the first woman to occupy such a high post in any Muslim country - and was on a third run for power when she was killed in a gun and suicide attack two years ago.
“You mention the name of Bhutto, in Pakistan especially, and you will have no shortage of people who hate her and of people who love her,” said Baughman.
For Hernandez, Bhutto “was polarizing in many ways. The reasons speak so much about her, because there was a lot of things to say, on both hands.”
Not satisfied with outlining her compelling successes, including restoring democracy to Pakistan, the documentary also tackles the many accusations of corruption that marred her name and that of her husband, current President Asif Ali Zardari.
Eerily enough, it is Bhutto's voice itself that narrates the film, culled from recordings for her autobiography.
“It's one of our proudest achievements,” said Baughman, noting that the tapes were recorded about 20 years ago.
“They were in a basement, unheard before by any public audience.”
Through Bhutto, the documentary also traces the fate of her family, dubbed “Pakistan's Kennedys.”
It is a family dominated by her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a former president and prime minister hanged by a military regime.
Assassinations, violent deaths or unexplained ones, internal conflict, glory and exile - this roller-coaster ride forges the Bhutto legend.
“You cannot have a conversation about those families without also asking 'what would have been.' What would have been in a JFK (John F. Kennedy) second term, what would have been in a BB (Benazir Bhutto) third term?” Baughman said.
But the film is also proof that Bhutto's two terms were already enough to fill history books.
“Her legacy will be debated for the generations to come,” Baughman added. —AFP