Film on Musharraf’s Pakistan Shown at Toronto festival
By Khalid Hasan

Washington, DC: President Pervez Musharraf may be facing the most serious challenge to his power since his arrival on the political scene in Pakistan in 1999, but there is good news for him in the form of a complimentary documentary film based on his life and record screened at the Toronto film festival last week.
Produced by Sabiha Sumar and Sachithanandam Sathananthan, the film, titled “Dinner with the President”, its makers say is spurred by the question: How will the army general bring democracy to Pakistan? “Intrigued by the irony implicit in the idea of a president in army uniform delivering democracy to the masses, the film engages President Musharraf in a discussion about his vision, his intentions, the political past and the means by which he proposes to bring democracy to Pakistan,” the makers said.
The makers also find it ironic that General Musharraf has “set out to empower the disenfranchised, particularly women”.
The film encounters the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), a tribal jirga, truck drivers, young elite “party animals”, a Sindhi peasant woman and her husband, in addition to people on the street. The makers involve them all in discussions on President Musharraf and democracy and come to the conclusion that the absence of women in most places raises a central issue, namely that a democracy without women is a contradiction in terms.
Sumar is a Pakistani and she and her fellow Sri Lankan filmmaker are “intrigued” by President Musharraf. According to them, “The media accuses him of being a dictator. At the same time, he is criticized for not making changes by diktat. But he has introduced far more personal freedom than any of his democratic predecessors. President Musharraf is said to be paying lip service to the United States while harboring Al Qaeda. But he is also blamed for heavy-handed military operations against Islamic extremists. The view in Pakistan is rather different. These simplistic labels mask a complex character. General Musharraf has helped combat the rise of Islamic extremism, and his coup staved off the Islamic revolution that threatened to take over the country. He has worked to extend the franchise and political participation to women - something unique is happening in Pakistan and the film seeks to uncover this change.”
Sumar was born in Karachi and studied filmmaking and political science at Sarah Lawrence College, New York, and read history and political thought at Cambridge. She has directed both documentaries and narrative films. Her first documentary was called “Who will Cast the First Stone”, which won the Golden Gate Award at the San Francisco Film Festival. Her first feature, “Khamosh Pani”, won the Golden Leopard for Best Film and the Leopard Best Actress award at the Locarno International Film Festival. She is now working on a new movie called “Rafina”. (Courtesy Daily Times)


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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