Oscar winner Bryan Fogel’s new documentary ‘The Dissident’ investigates the Jamal Khashoggi assassination

This past September, a Saudi Arabian court commuted the death sentence of five unknown people who had been convicted of the brutal slaying of acclaimed Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a well-respected critic of the Saudi government and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Khashoggi, who went into self-imposed exile in 2017 and began working for the Washington Post, visited the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey on October 2, 2018 in order to obtain papers to marry his Turkish fiancée Hatice Cengiz. He never came out.

The Saudis said he was murdered in a “rogue operation” at the consulate. But tapes and transcript of the murder reveal something far more heinous happened to Khashoggi: He was restrained after a violent struggle, drugged and then dismembered. His remains were handed over to a “collaborator” outside of the consulate. Eleven unknown people were put on trial by the Saudis. Besides the men who had their death sentences commuted, three more were given prison sentences. And another three were found not guilty. MSB was questioned but was cleared of any wrongdoing.

Khashoggi’s murder and the aftermath of his death is the subject of Oscar-winning documentarian Bryan Fogel’s (“Icarus”) latest film “The Dissident,” which premiered at Sundance to rave reviews. This Briarcliff Entertainment  release is currently rated 100% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. “As comprehensive and sobering an account of the murder of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi as one could want,” said Todd McCarthy in the Hollywood Reporter, adding Fogel had “assembled this massively documented investigation in an impressively short amount of time: Khashoggi was killed at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, 2018, but not one feels no stone was left unturned in researching and conveying the story.”

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Besides a treasure trove of footage-especially if Khashoggi, “The Dissident” focuses on Montreal-based Omar Abdelaziz, a fellow dissident and friend of Khashoggi who blames himself for the journalist’s murder and lives in constant fear that he will be tracked down by Saudi agents, and Cengiz, who waited outside the consulate for hours for her fiancée to come out.

Since his death, she has fought for justice for Khashoggi’s murder. Cengiz was very vocal in September when Saudi Arabia closed the case. “The ruling handed down today in Saudi Arabia again makes a completely mockery of justice. The Saudi authority are closing the case without the world knowing the truth of who is responsible for Jamal’s murder.”

Oscar-winning actor/activist Sean Penn interviewed Fogler after a special digital screening on Nov. 1. Penn also had planned to do a documentary on the murder — they were actually in Istanbul at the same time interviewing Cenzig and others. But Penn abandoned the project when he when he learned that Fogel, whom he admires, was also making a documentary.

Fogel told Penn that after “Icarus,” his Oscar-winning 2017 documentary about the Russian sports doping scandal, he felt “an obligation to continue to tell stories of resonance and that I’ve found could have global importance. And in the days following Khashoggi’s disappearance, as the story was unfolding in the press and the media, it seemed like this could be the story. As I started to read Jamal’s writings, it came clear to me that this guy was not the Muslim Brotherhood. He was a moderate. He had left his country basically for freedom of speech and freedom of press and freedom of journalism and literally put himself into self-exile so he could express his voice and his opinion.”

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The documentarian approaches his projects knowing “it’s going to take time. I don’t think of it as I’m going to go meet someone and shoot an interview and that’s the end of it. I spent five weeks there the first time and really didn’t shoot anything. It was just day after day meeting with Hatice. I probably met her seven, eight occasions over the period of five weeks and then I probably took 20 different meetings with the Turks. With each one I essentially was saying, ‘I know this is really sensitive.’ And in Hatice’s case ‘I know you’re grieving. I know that this has got to be inexplicable what is going on in your life right now, but if you trust me, if you let me work with you, ‘I will keep at this.”

And he kept at it for 18 months.  During that time, he and Cengiz became like brother and sister. “I watched her grow from someone who didn’t speak English from the day I met her to become truly the only fighter for Jamal’s legacy and for justice for him. I’ve watched her get through this unimaginable loss ‘

A to whether he was worried about his own safety, Fogel admitted to Penn that “when you get to know these people and hear their stories, to me I don’t think about my own personal risk or my personal safety because I think these stories are bigger than us, they’re bigger than an individual. So, if I was going about his process constantly worrying about myself, I couldn’t make these films.”

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