One of the best reviewed hot-button documentaries of last Sundance has finally been claimed and given an opportunity to be seen. Briarcliff Entertainment acquired U.S. distribution on The Dissident, about the brutal murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi after he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to get a marriage license. Directed by Bryan Fogel, whose Russian sports doping docu Icarus won the Oscar, the film will be released via theatrical and VOD to commemorate the second anniversary of the assassination, which happened October 2, 2018. Briarcliff released the film’s first trailer, which can be viewed below.
The picture premiered at Sundance, and while streaming companies gobbled up title after title, it became clear none of them or any major studios were going to touch the film, evidence of the complex nature of distributors that are part of conglomerates with global expansion plans, and the risk of alienating the oil rich Saudi government complicit in the murder and dismemberment of Khashoggi. In a deal brokered by UTA Independent Film Group, Briarcliff gets domestic while HanWay Films will handle international sales.
The film plays like a thriller as Khashoggi, a reformer and outspoken critic of the Saudi government, is lured to his death at the hands of a team of Saudi agents. The film boasts unseen surveillance footage and unprecedented access to other damning information. Pic has the participation of Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz and the UN Special Rapporteur who led the inquiry into the assassination, Agnès Callamard, as well as Turkish police and prosecutors, cyber security experts, and a young Saudi activist with whom Khashoggi was secretly collaborating, Omar Abdulaziz. Fogel weaves together the tragic story that has hung like a dark cloud over the reputation and outreach efforts of the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has denied complicity in the killing. A secret trial ended with five sentenced to death and three others to jail sentences for the murder, an outcome that many felt was a miscarriage of justice because of the lack of transparency.
Said Fogel: “As we approach the second anniversary of Jamal’s death with no official repudiation, my hope is that this film will enshrine his memory as well as ensure that justice is served, and that our society no longer turns a blind eye to the brutal human rights violations committed by the Saudi regime. I am thrilled that the film will receive a truly independent release, detached from corporate and special interests, so that we can authentically work towards these worthy outcomes.”
Briarcliff’s Ortenberg called Fogel “a courageous filmmaker who consistently takes great risks against very powerful authoritarians. We have a great sense of responsibility with this project and are honored to provide a platform that will continue Khashoggi’s work and highlight his sacrifices to the largest audience possible.”
The Dissident producer Thor Halvorssen, who is president of the Human Rights Foundation, called the picture “a chilling illustration of what results from unchecked power…that shines a powerful light on the darkness of tyranny. Dictatorships are undone by public exposure and we are committed to take this story all over the world, enlisting the partnership of the general public and civil society across the political and ideological spectrum to hold MBS and his henchmen accountable.”
Said Agnès Callamard, UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions:. “The Dissident denounces the Saudi state, but also the complicity, the silence, the apologists, and the cowards who have failed to act in the aftermath of Jamal’s execution. Having worked closely with Bryan Fogel for more than a year, I witnessed firsthand his deep commitment to investigating and presenting the complete picture, to memorializing the truth and to seeking justice. And all of this while being inherently respectful to those whose stories he tells. The Dissident is an irrepressible moral plea for human rights and human dignity.”
Khashoggi’s fiancée Hatice Cengiz said she was initially reluctant to participate when Fogel asked her. “But as we worked together, I came to realize that Bryan believed in Jamal’s cause and values,” she said. “No one has told this difficult and painful story better than Bryan. I am grateful for him, for his courage, and for immortalizing Jamal with this movie. I believe it will raise awareness about Jamal’s unjust killing and remind everyone that his killers are still not punished.”
Khashoggi collaborator Omar Abdulaziz said that “When I decided to participate, I knew that working with an accomplished filmmaker like Bryan would not be easy, but it would be our best opportunity to tell our story to the world, to bring justice and peace to our country and to our people.”
Fogel is represented by UTA and attorney Daniel Passman.