ENTERTAINMENT

Khashoggi documentary ‘The Dissident’ lands at Sundance

Jan 25, 2020, 6:20 PM
Director/producer Bryan Fogel speaks to reporters at the premiere of the documentary "The Dissident...
Director/producer Bryan Fogel speaks to reporters at the premiere of the documentary "The Dissident" at the MARC Theatre during the 2020 Sundance Film Festival on Friday, Jan. 24, 2020, in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Arthur Mola/Invision/AP)
(Photo by Arthur Mola/Invision/AP)

PARK CITY, Utah (AP) — A searing documentary about the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi made its anticipated debut at the Sundance Film Festival, unveiling a detailed investigation into the Saudi Arabia regime and the companies and governments that do business with it.

Bryan Fogel’s “The Dissident” was one of the most high-profile documentaries at the Park City festival, and it made headlines even before it premiered Friday. The Khashoggi documentary, Fogel’s first since his Oscar-winning expose “Icarus” on Russian doping for the Olympics, features the explosive conclusion of United Nations human rights investigators that the phone of Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos was hacked into by a malicious file sent from the personal WhatsApp account of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Hillary Clinton and Alec Baldwin were among those in attendance at the premiere of “The Dissident,” as was Hatice Cengiz, the fiancée of Khashoggi. Khashoggi was picking up paperwork for their marriage when he was murdered at a Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018. The crown prince ordered the killing, the CIA has said. Mohammed, who initially denied Saudi Arabia was behind Khashoggi’s killing, eventually granted it was carried out by the Saudi government but claimed it was not by his orders.

In an interview following the premiere of the Khashoggi documentary, Fogel said he hopes “The Dissident,” which dramatically details the plot to kill Khashoggi and analyzes Saudi Arabia’s crackdown on free speech, forces a reappraisal of the Middle Eastern country 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,” said Fogel. “As much money as there is, when you have people sitting in prisons for tweeting, when you have women arrested and tortured for driving, 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, Fogel urged distributors to not be scared off by Saudi Arabia and give the film a worldwide release. “In my dream of dreams, distributors will stand up to Saudi Arabia,” said Fogel.

Media companies have capitulated to Saudi pressure before. Netflix, which distributed Fogel’s “Icarus,” last year removed an episode of Hasan Minhaj’s “Patriot Act” dealing with the killing of Khashoggi after a Saudi complaint. Fogel said he would be happy for any studio to pick up the film, including Netflix, HBO and Bezo’s own Amazon. Following the murder, relations between Amazon and Saudi Arabia cooled considerably.

Of the possibility of Amazon, Fogel said, “I hope so. I’m open to any global powerful distributor that’s going to take this film seriously.”

The premiere of “The Dissident” was especially emotional for Cengiz. Since Khashoggi’s death, she has taken on public role pressing for justice for her former fiancé.

“I’m happy because this film will keep alive the story,” Cengiz said in a separate interview. “This film helped me to continue this fighting as a human, as a woman, as a victim.”

After the killing of Khashoggi, a veteran Saudi journalist who fled the kingdom to urge for reforms and press freedom in his native country, Cengiz says she can no longer assume her safety. The Guardian on Friday reported that U.S. officials believed Saudi Arabia has previously attempted to monitor Cengiz abroad.

“No one knows who is safe because they killed Jamal inside the consulate, the best safety place around the world,” said Cengiz. “So I don’t know if I’m safe if I’m sitting in my home.”

“The Dissident” includes extensive interviews with Turkish officials who uncovered the killing and also delves into the related story of Omar Abdulaziz, a Saudi activist who is living under asylum in Montreal after fleeing the country to launch a web series critical of the Saudi regime.

In the Khashoggi documentary, Abdulaziz says he believes Khashoggi’s relationship with him led directly to his murder. Abdulaziz’s phone, too, was hacked, the film alleges, with the powerful spyware program Pegasus believed to be used to target Bezos.

For Fogel, bringing such revelations to light has given Khashoggi’s death more meaning.

“There’s so much pain from this story, but there’s a lot of power that has come from it,” said Fogel. “Look what his murder — as horrendous as it was — has done to shine the light on other human rights abuses, to shine the light on what the Saudis were doing in regards to repressing free speech. I hope if Jamal was looking down, he’d be very proud to see he didn’t die in vain.

Today’s Top Stories

Entertainment

Arctic Monkeys pictured performing....
Waverly Golden

Arctic Monkeys coming to Salt Lake City in 2023

The Arctic Monkeys, the English rock band, announced their 2023 tour dates and Salt Lake City made the list. 
2 days ago
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 17: Sacheen Littlefeather on stage at AMPAS Presents An Evening...
Toyin Owoseje, CNN

Sacheen Littlefeather, Native American activist and actress, dead at 75

In August, the Academy formally apologized to Littlefeather for the mistreatment she experienced during her speech and in the years that followed.
2 days ago
Actor Conor Leslie with her newly adopted dog, Delores at the FanX convention that was held Sept. 2...
Amie Schaeffer

DC Universe star finds fur-ever friend at SLC FanX convention

Ruff Patch Rescue is a nonprofit that helps adopt out animals that need a little extra TLC. The organization recently set up at FanX.
7 days ago
Netflix gaming...
Catherine Thorbecke, CNN Business

Netflix to open its own video game studio as part of gaming pivot

The streaming giant is building its first in-house video game studio in Helsinki, Finland, as it expands its empire over mobile games.
7 days ago
hurricane ian florida...
Forrest Brown, CNN

Status of Florida theme parks, cruise ships and more as Ian approaches

Floridians are keeping an anxious eye on Hurricane Ian, including the operators of Florida's popular theme parks.
8 days ago
(Photo courtesy of Salt_Verse on Twitter)...
Rachel Metz, CNN Business

This guy is using AI to make movies — and you can help decide what happens next

"Salt" resembles many science-fiction films from the '70s and early '80s. The way it was created points to what could be a new frontier for making movies.
10 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Young woman receiving laser treatment...
Form Derm Spa

How facial plastic surgery and skincare are joining forces

Facial plastic surgery is not only about looking good but about feeling good too. The medical team at Form Spa are trained to help you reach your aesthetic outcomes through surgery and through skincare and dermatology, too.
large group of friends tohether in a park having fun...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

What differentiates BYU’s MBA program from other MBA programs

Commitment to service is at the heart of BYU’s MBA program, which makes it stand out among other MBA programs across the country.
a worker with a drill in an orange helmet installs a door in the house...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

Home improvement tip: Increase the value of your home by weatherproofing doors

Make sure your home is comfortable before the winter! Seasonal maintenance keeps your home up to date. Read our tips on weatherproofing doors.
Curb Appeal...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

How to have the best of both worlds for your house | Home security and curb appeal

Protect your home and improve its curb appeal with the latest security solutions like beautiful garage doors and increased security systems.
A paper reading IRS, internal revenue service is pictured...
Jordan Wilcox

The best strategies for dealing with IRS tax harassment | You have options!

Learn how to deal with IRS tax harassment. This guide will teach you how to stop IRS phone calls and letters, and how to handle an IRS audit.
spend a day at Bear Lake...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

You’ll love spending the day at Bear Lake | How to spend a day at Bear Lake

Bear Lake is a place that needs to be experienced. Spend a day at Bear Lake.
Khashoggi documentary ‘The Dissident’ lands at Sundance