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Sundance ’10 | “Bhutto” Producer Duane Baughman on His Portrait of the Fallen Leader

Sundance '10 | "Bhutto" Producer Duane Baughman on His Portrait of the Fallen Leader

Duane Baughman produced upcoming Sundance U.S. Documentary Competition feature, “Bhutto” – directed by Johnny O’Hara, (whose film, “Fields of Fuel,” won the 2008 Sundance Audience Award) and co-directed by Jessica Hernandez a veteran television editor. The film turns the spotlight on the assassinated former Pakistani prime minister with “exclusive interviews from the Bhutto family and never-before-seen footage. Filmmakers Jessica Hernandez and Johnny O’Hara have crafted a sweeping epic of a transcendent, yet polarizing, figure whose legacy will be debated for years to come.”

As the first woman to lead an Islamic nation, former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s life story unfolds like a tale of Shakespearean dimensions. Educated at Harvard and Oxford, Bhutto evolved from pampered princess to polarizing politician battling tradition and terrorism in the most dangerous country on Earth. Her father, the first democratically elected president of Pakistan, chose Benazir over his eldest son to carry his political mantle. Accused of rampant corruption, imprisoned, then exiled abroad, Bhutto was called back in 2007 as her country’s only hope for democracy. When she was struck down by an assassin, her untimely death sent shock waves throughout the world, transforming Bhutto from political messiah to a martyr in the eyes of the common people.” [Description provided by the Sundnace Film Festival]

U.S. Documentary Competition
Directors: Jessica Hernández, Johnny O’Hara
Writers: Johnny O’Hara
Executive Producer: Glenn Aveni
Producers: Duane Baughman, Arleen Sorkin, Mark Siegel
Co-Producers: Pamela Green, Jarik Van Sluijs
115 min.

Baughman on becoming a film producer…

I own a nationally acclaimed political consulting firm that helped elect folks like Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg  and another barrier breaking woman, Hillary Clinton, to win 20 states in her historic run for the presidency in 2008.  We handle international campaigns in some hotspots around the world and I have a passion for travel that’s taken me to some of the most dangerous, remote places on Earth to see other people’s lives with my own eyes.  I’ve been coming to Sundance “just for the movies” — not ever for industry reasons — for nearly a decade.  Sundance was the inspiration that helped me glue the two passions together.

Baughman on Bhutto and making the film…

I had been approached about the possibility of my firm helping Benazir Bhutto regain power, but we obviously never got that far.  I knew the minute Benazir was assassinated that the best hope for democracy and stability in Pakistan was gone. As the only nuclear-armed Muslim nation, her death could easily send not only that country, and strategically critical region off its delicate axis, but potentially it could take the world with it.  A few days after her death I approached her friend and advisor, Mark Siegel, about bringing her story to the screen.  Two months later, I was sitting in what had been Benazir’s living room interviewing her heartbroken children and husband.

It was like peeling an onion. Get on the ground fast and get in as deep as possible to the myriad histories of the story — Benazir’s personal history, the family’s history and Pakistan’s history.  In her case, all these histories were all intertwined.  She and her family ARE Pakistan, as much as Pakistan is her.  

We faced the obvious challenges that come with a movie made in and about Pakistan and Islam.  There are the dangers of going back and forth and filming in what Newsweek calls the most dangerous place on Earth.  The hotel where the crew and myself stayed, the Marriot Islamabad, was blown to the ground a few days after we wrapped.

Anticipating Sundance…

It’s the closest most audiences will come to being there:  both in Pakistan, and in the hearts and heads of Benazir Bhutto’s family who gave us gut-wrenching recollections of their mother just 2 months after she was assassinated. It’s that sense of immediacy and freshness that’s so visceral and painful — especially when you see and hear Benazir’s kids — that can never be captured again.

Influences and a “Top Secret” location…

The film “The Kingdom” [is an influence].  It was a commercial film, but it was daring enough to put Jamie Foxx in a movie that took pains to explain the political history of Saudi Arabia and that country’s controversial entanglements with American-Middle East foreign policy. We faced a similar dilemma in telling the complicated history of the birth of Pakistan, a country which was carved out of India. Its history involves a complex partition, wars, mistrust and conflicts that are still relevant even today with the recent Mumbai terrorist massacre. As we speak I’m shooting in Rwanda, the Congo and a top secret location in Europe with the on-going goal of stirring things up.

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