Sunday, December 20, 2020

Movie with Abe: The Dissident

The Dissident
Directed by Bryan Fogel
Released December 18, 2020

The internet and social media have become so prevalent that news can travel at an incredible speed to the entire world. Once a story is out there, it’s impossible to bottle it back up again, and things can spiral considerably as new information emerges. Because there’s always something else happening, public interest can quickly fade and only those particularly invested in the details will continue following the consequences and subsequent events. Returning to look at the whole picture after some time has passed can underline just how incredible it was and what implications it will have for the future.

In October 2018, Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and never came out. His highly publicized disappearance and the ensuing revelation that he was killed inside the consulate attracted tremendous media attention, but there is much more to the story that wasn’t covered extensively. Fellow Saudi dissident Omar Abdulaziz, who left his home country and sought refuge in Canada, recounts the timeline of his activities with Khashoggi and the factors that led to his coordinated and state-sponsored murder.

This is director Bryan Fogel’s follow-up to his Oscar-winning documentary “Icarus,” which began by investigating Olympic doping and uncovered far deeper secrets about subversive Russian activity along the way. Like that film, this highly detailed cinematic essay weaves a fascinating narrative, one that focuses on the way in which technology, and social media in particular, was used by Saudi Arabia to suppress opposing voices. Abdulaziz and other players are interviewed to share what they did and what happened to them as a result, but this is about more than just individual people.

This film is an important chronicle of human rights and a very deliberate effort to subvert them, and the information to back up what is presented here is conveyed in a clever and involving manner. Recreated screenshots of tweets or text message conversations are shown frequently, and computer-animated simulations spell out the intricacies of systems like the “flies” and “bees” that combat each other to spread governmental propaganda and to try to get the real truth out. It’s a helpful companion piece to “Kingdom of Silence,” which spends more time on the history of Saudi Arabia and less on the timeline of Khashoggi’s murder, which relates directly to his work with Abdulaziz and the fight to pull back the curtain on Saudi corruption. This film contains many unsettling and outright disturbing moments in its role as a crucial and frightening examination of crimes committed out in the open with alarmingly few repercussions.


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