Locke Lord lobbyist Mark Siegel is gearing up for a stroll down the Emmy Awards’s 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 earlier this 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’s 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 of 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.
I also was in a unique role, because I was with her in so many key points of her life—quite literally right next to her—that I am heavily featured in the documentary. And so that’s sort of a different role from a producer. I’m in the film a great deal. But, you know, we’d never done this before and from the rough cuts to the final product was a very interesting process for me—cutting and adding and filling in gaps, and dealing with everything from music to graphics. This is not what I was trained to do.
After the Sundance premiere, what led to the film being picked up by PBS?
We went through two processes. First, it was commercially released all around the country in theaters. That happened in 2010 and . Since my concern with the film was not making money, but it was distributing a message, letting people see the story of the country and the woman, I felt I didn’t want tens of thousands of people to see this film. I wanted millions of people to see this film. And, that’s when we decided to go with Independent Lens and PBS, and it has been shown for two full weeks on PBS last year and the year before. And both times, [it showed in 97 percent of PBS markets], which is unheard of.
They also feature it as part of [PBS' "Women and Girls Lead"] program, and the film is now shown in hundreds of high schools around the United States and they do lesson plans around the film. So as someone who was concerned with her legacy and her life, and telling the story and preserving the story, I couldn’t ask for more.
How did you balance working on the film with your role at Locke Lord Strategies?
This was an extraordinary experience. I did it in the evenings, on the weekends, traveling—it was not my day job. But, Locke Lord, it’s pretty much an out-of-the-box firm. They encourage people to do things that aren’t necessarily directly keyed to traditional law firm services.
What’s the reaction been like from your clients and colleagues?
In Pakistan, they were very, very excited. When we won the Peabody, Benazir’s son, Bilawal, came and actually stood in back of me when I got the award, and so did Benazir’s sister, who came in from London. My clients and my colleagues at the firm have been very receptive. This firm really has gone out of its way to bring attention to me and to the film.
Is there a red carpet at the News & Documentary Emmys?
There is a red carpet and the statue, which is a very pretty statue, actually. And the Peabody may be more prestigious in an intellectual way, but for my children, I think the Emmy is a bigger deal. And to my former colleagues at Northwestern, the Peabody is the bigger deal.
Now that you’ve tried filmmaking, what other projects are in your future?
I think there’s more writing that I want to do. I think, probably, I may return to that. But, right now, Locke Lord is very, very full-time as a day job.