“The Dissident,” Bryan Fogel’s follow up to his Oscar-winning documentary, “Icarus,” is a gripping and condemning account circling the murder of Washington Post columnist, Jamal Khashoggi. On its surface, the film is a detailed report on the politically fueled narrative surrounding the ordered killing of Khashoggi, a dissident journalist, by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. At its core, Fogel’s film is a salient condemnation of the powers that work to silence freedom of speech. What is a country if it strikes down the voice of its citizens? Through great, critical eyes, Fogel presses the need to tell another story of uncovered and unjust scandal, taking on the responsibilities of political and cinematic activism with courage.
What could have been an elementary delve into the Wikipedia-like facts of Khashoggi’s story instead becomes the cry for immediate action and humanity through thoughtful facets of Khashoggi’s life and work. Fogel demonstrates a sharp attention to detail and how the details themselves reveal a devilish war on our global freedom of speech. With “Icarus,” Fogel launched himself into something that would unfold to revealing proportions. His gonzo experiment to self-cheat the cyclist drug testing system post-Lance Armstrong scandal merged into documenting Russia’s Olympic doping scheme and one of its sought-after employs. Now with “The Dissident,” Fogel assumes the role of observer and confidante, as he treks the simmering, angering accounts of Saudi Arabian complex over power and silence. His film works to illuminate just how great a loss Khashoggi’s death is and how it inspires courage from the destructive political rubble.
Khashoggi excelled in his career as a journalist, columnist and, at one point, foreign correspondent—this placed him near the Saudi kingdom circles for some time. While he fully backed some decisions made by the Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, he was firm to press against the arrest of female activists, the Saudi war on Yemen, the pushback on social media uprising and the neglect of a free press world. This growing disposition toward the kingdom rang weary and offensive to the powers that be. Fearing eventual threats, Khashoggi left the country and found a place in the United States working for The Washington Post in 2017. Khashoggi was murdered at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul October of 2018 while going to retrieve documents to marry his fiancé, Hatice Cengiz. His death was met with an uproar of media coverage, as all eyes were now on Saudi Arabia.
“The Dissident” details the circumstances of Khashoggi’s death in interviews with the journalist’s professional peers and Turkish police officials. Among those in the fold is Omar Abdulaziz, a Saudi activist we meet in the introduction. He believes the closeness he shared with Khashoggi may have contributed heavily to his murder. His own brothers are paying the price detained in Saudi Arabia for his dissenting stance and ongoing opposition to MBS. Abdulaziz grew his political activism through social media and vlogs speaking against the Saudi government’s practices, trying to free up space in the social networks that would allow other Saudi people to feel heard. Abdulaziz is the genius key to Fogel’s documentary, flying close to the source of what fuels Saudi rhetoric across new age platforms for voice and power, social media— precisely, Twitter. With approximately 80% of the Saudi Arabian population on the app, there’s a push and pull for a trending majority narrative over its people. When a government’s dangerous diction is propelled widespread, it’s hard to knock that power off alone.
Through computer-generated graphics (also showcased in Netflix’s “Icarus”), Fogel’s film visualizes the steady narrative stronghold Saudi Arabia has over technology, including the findings of the kingdom’s known phone tappings. Abdulaziz represents a young generation of activists and global journalists looking to right wrongs and not let Khashoggi’s death be in vain. The film doesn’t let that happen either, weaving old interviews and quotes from Khashoggi’s days in the workforce. His bubbling high spirits and shrewdness are well seen throughout the film, giving constant voice to someone no longer here, but whose work and influence carry on for the greater good.
Fogel’s film is a step further from “Icarus,” although different altogether. Instead of the guidance of his subject to uncover more, Fogel’s investigative side listens to the injustices of the world that he so urgently captures. It is a loving remembrance of Khashoggi, all tough details aside, but it also offers profound thought and new hope for people to speak up. “The Dissident” is staggering, urgent filmmaking at its height. These are human stories happening in our very real world and Fogel continues to make them accessible while risking persecution of his own.
Directed by : Bryan Fogel