The Dissident is a documentary about the 2018 death of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist working for the Washington Post, who entered his country’s consulate in Istanbul to obtain a marriage license and never came out. His fiancée, Turkish reporter Hatice Cengiz, was left waiting outside the government office for hours not knowing what had happened. The story has been widely documented across the world’s media for its bizarre and brazen nature. Transcripts made by Turkish intelligence recoding within the embassy showed that the first unsuspecting, then disbelieving Khashoggi entered the embassy and was then drugged, suffocated and dismembered. His remains were disposed of in a tandoori oven, along with 70lbs of meat hastily ordered to disguise the smell.
This feature delves into what led to these events, who ordered them, why they happened and the reaction of the international community. Director Bryan Fogel has form in tackling big, dangerous subjects. His 2017 documentary Icarus about doping in Russian sport won an Oscar that year. This latest movie is especially timely, as CIA documents declassified this week support the film’s argument: that Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader Mohammed bin Salman (“MBS”) ordered the operation which carried out the murder.
Produced in conjunction with the Human Rights Foundation, The Dissident is two hours of thorough and scrupulous investigation. Comprising interviews with the Turkish investigators, Cengiz, associates of Khashoggi such as Omar Abdulaziz, along with footage of Khashoggi himself, showing his defending of free speech to criticise his country’s regime; it weaves a complex story. Fogel forensically looks into MBS’s use of Twitter, his hiring of an army of “Flies” – as Abdulaziz terms them – people paid to immediately swarm on any post critical of the regime or MBS and swamp it in negative comments to discredit it. The documentary explains the software and capability “Pegasus” used by MBS, which can turn a smartphone into a spy in the pocket of the owner. This even infected the phone of Amazon billionaire, Jeff Bezos, who was meant to invest in a wildly lucrative venture with MBS, but as owner of the Washington Post, Khashoggi’s murder put a stop to that.
This is a tale of corruption of the highest level and of flagrant disregard for human life. The film effectively arranges large amounts of information and interests into a clear thesis, focusing down from the high level espionage into the horrific human suffering at the centre. It is an intense and powerful work, unsettling but essential.
The Dissident will have its UK Premiere online at the Glasgow Film Festival on 6th March 2021.
Watch the trailer for The Dissident here: