Bryan Fogel interview: ‘The Dissident’ documentary
For Bryan Fogel, getting access to the transcripts of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey was the result of a long history of trust building with the Turkish government. “It took me a year of—I can’t even count the number of meetings with Turkish government officials back and forth between Istanbul and Ankara,” the director of “The Dissident” tells Gold Derby in our Meet the Experts: Documentary panel (watch above). He received the transcripts only a month prior to the film’s premiere at the Sundance Film Festival and required another six months of work to properly insert them into the final cut. Fogel also remembers how shocking it was “to see what appears to be the joy that these assassins are taking in murdering Jamal, dismembering him and there’s a real pride of work and there’s many types of it in the transcripts where they are laughing.”
“The Dissident” details the targeted assassination of Khashoggi, a Saudi Arabian journalist living in the US, by the Saudi ruling family while he was visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October of 2018. The doc also looks at another critic of the Saudi royal family currently living in exile, Omar Abdulaziz, as well as looking at how crown prince Mohammed bin Salman has invested in a technological army in order to manipulate social media trends in the country. Fogel’s previous documentary “Icarus” won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature in 2018.
The incorporation of Abdulaziz’s story was something that was central in how Fogel wanted to frame and structure the film. “As the story unfolded those first two weeks of October 2018, how were we not going to tell an archival film and how was this able to be crafted as a cinematic thriller and not be a retrospective about the murder of Jamal?” Fogel came across Abdulaziz’s story in The New York Times detailing how his phone had been hacked, several family members and friends were jailed back in Saudi Arabia and that he had audio of Saudis meeting with him in Canada in hopes of getting him to return to the kingdom where he would most likely either be jailed or killed. “It became very clear to me at that point that he was key and pivotal as to whether or not to embark on this project.”
The relationships that Fogel has built with both Abdulaziz and Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi’s fiancée, are still in tact. “There’s not a day that goes by that I’m not in communication with both of them.” Part of this is the immense amount of time he spent with each of them (several months for each) just building trust before any shooting even started. But for Fogel, it also traces back to how he approached his view of the subject matter itself. “For me, this as much about being an activist and embedding with these people to become part of their lives and fight for justice in this murder as it was making the film. The film was secondary to what is and was a real unfolding story.”