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The Dissident Documentary film review


Directed by: #BryanFogel

Documentary film review by: Brian Penn

The Dissident (2020)

Freedom of expression is a basic human right largely taken for granted; especially where social media provides an unfettered platform for the communication of ideas. However, Bryan Fogel presents a frightening vision of where such opinions can lead. The Dissident tells of events leading to the murder of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and the aftermath as Turkish police investigated his death at the Saudi consulate in October 2018. Archive footage is supplemented with interviews featuring those closest to Khashoggi. The narrative speaks for itself in a film shot with a high level of cinematic excellence.

The story begins in Montreal as Omar Abdulaziz speaks in hushed tones to an unknown associate on his mobile. They speak of threats, doing illegal things and god’s forgiveness. The obligatory flashback mechanism soon fills the back story. Abdulaziz and Khashoggi had become kindred spirits after the latter fled to the USA. They were both heavily critical of the Saudi regime, and days before his death had developed a campaign to fight strategically organised Twitter warriors. Khashoggi had been a favourite of the Saudi ruling elite but later estranged when he opposed their style of leadership. His dissident status was assured; although railed against the description claiming that dissidents hated their country; he loved Saudi Arabia.

Abdulaziz maintains a combative spirit throughout the piece; a faithful lieutenant carrying the torch to keep Khashoggi’s dream alive. A variety of talking heads including journalists, broadcasters and CIA operatives also add depth to the narrative. But it is the recollection of Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz that is most telling. She recounts how they met; and the joy he felt in finding a true companion. His visit to the Saudi consulate was to obtain papers that would enable them to marry. Whatever machinations might have been at play that day, Khashoggi simply wanted to get married and live his life. It is difficult to process the crushing sadness of a life so abruptly ended.

Such is Fogel’s dexterity the film stylistically jumps between documentary, docu-drama and feature film which only heightens the tension. There is an effective use of CGI to illustrate how social media is used to control users. It is an impressive piece that is both compelling and chilling in its stark reality. The simple truth is well represented in a film that sets power against human rights; a sobering thought indeed.


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