The Dissident, a documentary by Bryan Fogel about the killing of columnist Jamal Khassoggi, made its anticipated debut at the Sundance Film Festival at the Park City of the western American state of Utah.
The docufilm was one of the most high-profile documentaries at the festival, and it made headlines even before it premiered. The film is Bryan Fogel’s first since his Oscar-winning expose Icarus on Russian doping for the Olympics.
Hillary Clinton and Alec Baldwin were among those in attendance at the premiere of The Dissident, as was Hatice Cengiz, the fiancée of Jamal Khashoggi who was picking up paperwork for their marriage when he was murdered in Istanbul in October 2018.
In an interview following the premiere, Bryan Fogel said that he hopes The Dissident, which dramatically details the plot to kill the columnist and analyzes Saudi ‘crackdown’ on free speech, forces a reappraisal of the Arab kingdom internationally.
The film’s end credits include a list of corporations with business ties to Saudi Arabia. The United States, too, is scrutinized for its close alliance with the kingdom, including a 2019 arms deal allowed to go forward after President Donald Trump vetoed a bill intended to block the sale.
“I hope that this film will make other countries, their government and business leaders reassess their relationship with Saudi Arabia until they reform,” Bryan Fogel said. “As much money as there is when you have people sitting in prisons for tweeting and when you have women arrested, it’s very hard to look the other way.”
The Dissident was greeted with a raucous standing ovation and immediate acclaim. Variety called it an eye-opening thriller brew of corruption, cover-up, and real-world courage. Independently financed by the Human Rights Foundation, The Dissident is for sale at Sundance, the top movie market for documentaries.
Speaking on stage after the premiere, Bryan Fogel urged distributors to not be scared off and give the film a worldwide release. Last year, Netflix removed an episode of Hasan Minhaj’s Patriot Act dealing with the killing of Jamal Khashoggi after a complaint.
Bryan Fogel said that he would be happy for any studio to pick up the film, including Netflix, HBO, and Amazon. “I hope so. I’m open to any global powerful distributor that’s going to take this film seriously,” he said. Since Jamal Khashoggi’s death, Hatice Cengiz has taken on public role pressing for justice for her former fiancé.
“I’m happy because this film will keep alive the story,” she said. “This film helped me to continue this fighting as a human, as a woman, as a victim.” After the killing of the columnist, who fled the kingdom to urge for reforms and press freedom in his native country, she said she can no longer assume her safety.
The Dissident includes interviews with Turkish officials who uncovered the killing and also delves into the related story of Omar Abdulaziz, an activist who is living under asylum in Montreal after fleeing his to launch a web series. In the film, Abdulaziz says he believes Khassoggi’s relationship with him led directly to his murder.