Dinner with the President: A Nation's Journey

Film
Recommended
4 out of 5 stars
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Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Pakistan has vacillated between militaristic autocrats and elected officials for half a century. The instability drove directors Sabiha Sumar and Sachithanandam Sathananthan to examine where their homeland will be in ten years, and the answer reveals a nation full of contradictions: happily servile, fiercely individualistic, traditional, modern, educated, ignorant, cosmopolitan, rural, secular and devout. Democratic? Maybe, maybe not.Former president Pervez Musharraf, himself a general who suspended the constitution twice in nine years of power, is still in office when the filmmakers ask for access. His response is first a dinner, and then a series of follow-up interviews, during which he lucidly explains the challenges of ruling a country unaccustomed to certain types of freedom.

The fundamental issue is the primacy of individual rights versus a feudal mind-set. How does a country learn democracy when there is no sense of it at a grassroots level? In interviews with citizens of all backgrounds, the filmmakers absorbingly convey the worldview of the Pakistanis—as well as their displaced hopes. “When Benazir returns, poverty will be eradicated,” says one blindly devout fan of two-time prime minister Benazir Bhutto. When she returns from self-imposed exile, a car bomb cuts short that dream. Boosters of a free Iraq, take heed.

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Director:
Sabiha Sumar, Sachithanandam Sathananthan