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 on Friday.
The film, 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 fiancee 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, Fogel said he hopes The Dissident,"which dramatically details the plot to kill Khashoggi and analyses 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 scrutinised 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".
Australian Associated Press