A highlight for my husband and me during the Sundance Film Festival is to set aside a date night for dinner and a movie at the Sundance Village and Resort, forty miles outside the hub of the Sundance Film Festival location in Park City. We both look forward to this escapism from our daily schedule of snow skiing and dealing with crowds while attending the festival. For a few short hours our life simply slows down to take in the fresh and natural beauty of rustic country living. The resort, owned by the Sundance Institute Founder, Robert Redford, is set in a narrow canyon, naturally nestled in between two famous mountain ranges first inhabited by the Timpanogotzis in 1776.
Our dinner reservation was made for a couple hours prior to our scheduled film and we took the opportunity to arrive early to take a walk and enjoy sitting at the big fire pit across from the base of the ski lift watching the skiers slip and slide on the icy snowy path toward the chair lift. Yes, often a comedic scene!
The film we chose to screen at the Sundance Resort screening theater was the documentary The Dissident from Bryan Fogel, the Academy Award-winning director of the 2017 documentary Icarus. We were convinced that the film would be enlightening but intense due to the subject matter. Fogel is known for truth telling storylines so whatever he'd put on the silver screen would be more than worth our while for viewing. We were not disappointed!
Fogel exposes the complicated story, time-line and series of events pertaining to the murder of the Washington Post journalist, Jamal Khasshoggi. The situation took place in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. The thought of one being disposed of within an embassy is surreal not to mention ironic. These landmarks are supposed to be a safe haven and/or a refuge for all who enter. A narrative such as Khasshoggi's is not meant to be true-to-life but only for the mystery books or film thrillers. What went wrong?
Fogel eloquently explains the details in The Dissident using never-before-seen footage with interviews, conversations and official documents provided by those closest to the story. Fogel was given unprecedented access to loads of information because those key individuals that could attest to the true narrative trusted him. His track record with previous works such as Icarus was what made the development of trust possible. He used the same formula as in Icarus to get to the truth: gather information without bias, without cutting corners, protect the sources, and serve the truth. However, trust did not happen overnight but instead over months of face-to-face meetings and conversations over tea and meals because this is how middle-eastern cultures do business. State side the same type of meetings occurred for security.
The native Saudi Arabian, Jamal Khasshoggi desired to be a reformer who wanted to help create a more just and open society in his homeland. He was a countryman very well connected and working toward positive reform.
Here is a peek at Fogel's beginning timeline which is further explained in The Dissident: In 2009, Saudi student Omar Abdulaziz arrives in Canada to study at McGill University. He criticizes Saudi repression; his scholarship is revoked by the Saudi Government and he is granted political asylum in Canada in 2014. In 2017, journalist Jamal Khashoggi leaves Saudi Arabia for the United States during a crackdown on human rights activists to avoid being arrested. He is a regular journalist for The Washington Post. The same year Abdulaziz and Khashoggi collaborate on projects to bring more freedom of expression to Saudi Arabia including a plan to counteract Saudi state control of social media. May 2018, Khashoggi meets Turkish PhD student Hatice Cengiz and they decide to marry. June 2018, Abdulaziz's phone is hacked by the Saudi government using Pegasus spyware purchased from the Israeli company NSO group. The sequence of events spirals down from there.
Fogel notes, "If there is one thing Khashoggi showed us, it's that individuals can be powerful, and even dangerous, to the corrupting powers of the world." Adding, "He was a dangerous man to the tyranny of Saudi Arabia. He threatened the regime's control of their image at a time when they are investing so much money and time in whitewashing their crimes so they can seem 'progressive'." Fogel continues, "Khashoggi wasn't going to let us forget about the lawyers and activities, suffering in Saudi jails, about the censorship and repression, about MBS's authoritarian cruelty." Adding, "By writing about what he knew to be true, he became a threat, because truth is powerful."
Fogel concludes, "It's a dark story, and the more you learn, the darker it gets. The last chapter of the campaign of justice for Khashoggi has not been written." Though his fiancée Hatice Cengiz, continues to seek justice because he took action to speak out against crimes against humanity." Khashoggi's story is out in the open. Fogel has done his due diligence and warns, "It's now much harder for people like The Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to choose his next target and go after another pro-democracy whistleblower because the world is watching...closely."
Once again, we see evidence of modern technology doing more harm than good because spyware like Pegasus is sold to the highest bidder. We must then ask the question: Who is watching us now and why?