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‘The Dissident’ review: Dir. Bryan Fogel (2021)

The film is set for release in March following presentations at the Glasgow and Dublin film festivals.

From filmmaker Bryan Fogel, the Oscar-winning director behind Icarus, which you can still find on Netflix, brings a very different, though equally striking documentary to screens. The Dissident is an engaging and, frankly, sometimes harrowing feature focussing on the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi Arabia national and Washington Post journalist who vanished after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.

Khashoggi was a journalist originally working for various publications in his homeland for a number of decades before relocating to the United States in 2017. It was there where he started writing for The Washington Post, and it is around about here where Fogal’s film begins. We’re initially introduced to one of Khashoggi’s confidants, Omar Abdulaziz, now located in Montreal where there seems to be some significant threat for his safety. From here, through talking head interviews, including with Abdulaziz himself, the documentary back-tracks to tell the story of Khashoggi and the events that lead up to his disappearance at the Saudi embassy in Istabul, Turkey whilst picking up documents for his planned marriage to Hatice Cengiz, a local PhD student.

Fogel approaches his new piece from a different angle to Icarus in terms of his documentary style; here, he remains off-camera, though is sometimes audible, preferring to let his interviewees relay their insight into the narrative rather than have himself front and centre. Khashoggi’s story is laid out almost as a murder mystery, almost an crime piece that unashamedly shocks throughout, told simply by figures who had some involvement, theories or knowledge of the incident, or whom were close to the film’s central subject. As well as Khashoggi’s fiancée Hatice Cengiz, there are detailed interviews with the law enforcement teams who were first on the scene in the embassy once they were allowed in; former peers and friends of Khashoggi, both in the journalistic field, and political arena; and with Abdulaziz, the aforementioned associate with whom Khashoggi was working in the months leading up to his death.

Perfectly presented, rightfully distressing, though utterly compelling from start to finish.

It is a film which commands your full attention, and if you serve it, you will undoubtedly be as engrossed, deeply shocked and massively involved as I was. There are moments that are completely jaw-dropping, others completely disturbing and truly upsetting and infuriating. Fogel presents proceedings with brilliantly-shot visual imagery – something one may expect from a contemporary documentary – from the drone shots sweeping over Montreal and Istanbul, CGI animated graphics detailing the social media activity surrounding the events, and foreboding hand-held camerawork as Fogel’s lens follows Abdulaziz around the city in which he lives in exile.

Aside from the obvious human rights topics explored, there is also an emphasis on the power of social media in today’s age – which is still obviously a hot topic. As someone who considers himself well-informed with Twitter and social media in general, and its power, I was still surprised at just how details, trending topics and truths could be manipulated, and used in the political arena for to maximise influence. It’s mind-blowing, scary stuff.

The film runs at just a touch under two hours and at times feels like a slog. However, it’s a powerful piece of filmmaking equal to Fogel’s previous award-winning work with Icarus. The Dissident does, however, come to us over a year since its initial premiere at Sundance 2020, so there have been many developments in this story since, notably more so in the days prior to me typing these words. Still, the film is one of the best documentaries we’ve seen this year, one that will have you have you constantly questioning how and why? Perfectly presented, rightfully distressing, though utterly compelling from start to finish.

The Dissident

Paul Heath



An involving, shocking piece of documentary filmmaking that is another knock-out from award-winning filmmaker Bryan Fogel.


THE DISSIDENT will have its UK Premiere online at the Glasgow Film Festival on 6 March, and Irish Premiere online at the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival on 13 March . For more information visit


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