Locke Lord lobbyist Mark Siegel is gearing up for a stroll down the Emmy Awards' red carpet.
The 65-year-old Siegel is not a lawyer, but has a Ph.D. in political behavior from Northwestern University and is a partner with Locke Lord Strategies, the firm's lobbying arm. He is also a producer of the documentary film Bhutto, which was nominated for an Emmy Award in the News & Documentary category last month. The film, which won a Peabody Award in May, explores the life of Benazir Bhutto, the former Pakistani prime minister who, in 1988, became the first woman elected to lead a Muslim state. She was assassinated in 2007.
In October, Siegel will attend the Emmy Awards ceremony -- with Bhutto competing in the category for Outstanding Continuing Coverage of a News Story -- at Lincoln Center in New York. (The primetime television version of the Emmy Awards is held separately, in Los Angeles.)
Siegel was a longtime friend and colleague of Bhutto, having served as her speechwriter and U.S. lobbyist throughout her political career. He collaborated with her on the book Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy, and the West, which was published posthumously.
Over the course of his career as a political lobbyist and strategist, Siegel has represented the Pakistani government in Washington, D.C., served as a chief of staff to New York congressman Steve Israel, and worked as a speechwriter for such politicians as President Jimmy Carter and Vice President Hubert Humphrey.
Bhutto uses a mix of archival footage and recent interviews with friends, family members and political experts. The film follows its subject from her birth as the eldest child of former Pakistani President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (who was executed in 1979) through the assassination that claimed her life weeks before a general election that could have resulted in her third stint leading the country. In the days following her death, Siegel appeared on CNN's The Situation Room, where he shared with Wolf Blitzer an email he'd received from Bhutto months before her death "basically giving me instructions on what to do, what to say, and who to blame if she was assassinated."
Bhutto premiered at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, where it was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize, before being sold to PBS' Independent Lens, a television series showcasing independent documentaries. Siegel himself is a frequent commentator in the film's interview portions. The film features interviews with Bhutto's widower and current president of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, as well as her children and political adversary General Pervez Musharraf. Also featured are such high-profile names as former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and syndicated columnist Arianna Huffington.
Recently, Siegel spoke with The Am Law Daily about his relationship with Bhutto and his role in producing the award-winning documentary about her life. What follows is an edited transcript on that interview that has been condensed and edited for grammar, style and clarity.
How did your relationship with Benazir Bhutto begin?
We had a mutual friend from Harvard, [author and diplomat] Peter Galbraith, who was very close to Benazir, was in her class of '73. When Benazir got out of prison in '84, when [former Pakistani president] Zia-ul-Haq released her -- he was the guy who killed her father -- she came to the United States and Peter asked my wife and I to have a dinner party for his friend who was getting out of prison, which sort of took us aback a bit. But then he explained who she was and we did have this dinner party. And, she and I became very, very close after that. She asked me to start handling her affairs in Washington, which I did. I started writing for her as a speechwriter and we were together for the next [23 years] in and out of power. When she was in power, I was her Washington lobbyist and representative. When she was out of power, I represented her and her party, traveled around the world with her, writing speeches and making speeches with her. And we just were very, very close. In 2007, I updated her autobiography, which she'd originally handwritten in 1989. Later in the year, which was an extraordinary experience, she and I wrote a book together called Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy, and the West, which we finished literally a week before she was assassinated. And, it was published in February , two months after her assassination.
Who had the idea to make the film and how did that process kick off?
A few days after she was assassinated, Duane Baughman [a political marketer and Bhutto's director] came to me and asked if I would consider doing a documentary on Benazir. I, at that point, was really in shell shock, deeply in mourning. I said I really couldn't talk about this, but over the next several weeks I thought about it and her legacy and the story, and it needed to be told. And I talked to her husband and her children, and we agreed to go forward. It was at that point that we started. We worked on the film for about a year and a half. It premiered at Sundance in January 2010.
Did you have any filmmaking experience?
I had never done a film and it was very, very challenging. What I did bring to the table was I brought access to some of the key people that needed to be interviewed -- the president and the three children, which was the first and only time that they talked about Benazir's assassination, those interviews that are in the film. I got [Condoleeza Rice] in the film through Harriet Miers, who is one of my partners at Locke Lord [Miers served as White House counsel under President George W. Bush, as well as an unsuccessful nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court]. I have a pretty wide net after all these years in Washington. And it was a real challenge, because what I wanted to do was produce something that was credible and legitimate, and that meant telling the whole story -- the plusses, the minuses, the triumphs, the criticisms. And I think we did that.