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QuickView: The Dissident (2020)

The Dissident

“Saudi Arabia is a 100-year-old monarchy, and monarchies don’t like change.”

Jamal Khashoggi

Documentarian Ben Fogel’s highly polished follow-up to Icarus covers the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Fogel succeeds in condensing this important story into a compelling two-hour narrative, but there is little new information to glean for those who followed the news, with most of the shocking facts well-publicised at the time. Like many modern documentaries, Twitter provides the contemporaneous context, particularly so in the cause of Saudi Arabia where it is used by 80% of the population, making it also a prime target for state surveillance. I complained of Fogel’s need to insert himself into Icarus; here he stays out of the way, with the human perspective provided by Khashoggi’s friend and collaborator, Omar Abdulaziz, and partner, Hatice Cenzig. Through their recollections, The Dissident is a portrait of a lonely man, on a road from an insider voice of the establishment, to a true journalist and ultimately a dissident. Having spent 30 years working with the Saudi government, he faced mistrust from activists. He seemed more a reformer than a dissident, galvanised by the Arab Spring and then disappointed by the Saudi-sponsored counter-revolution. It was ultimately his own country’s response to reformist voices which pushed him further away. Perhaps the documentary’s greatest warning is not about Saudi Arabia at all, but the ease with which it fell into authoritarian digital state surveillance, which should be alarming to those complacent about eroding privacy in the West.


QuickView: Icarus (2017)

“Even to understand the word ‘doublethink’ involves the use of doublethink. I was doing in parallel two things which cancelled out each other and being fully contradictory. Doping and anti-doping.”

Grigory Rodchenkov

Bryan Fogel’s Oscar-winning documentary begins with an investigation into doping in cycling until he is put in touch with Grigory Rodchenkov, head of Russia’s anti-doping laboratory. It then swiftly expands as Rodchenkov reveals details of Russian athletics’ state-sponsored doping programme and decides to go public with this information in the USA. Despite some weak structure and Fogel’s need to insert himself into the story, the scandal itself is incredible enough to drive the film. Rodchenkov is a fascinating subject as he struggles with his decision, and drawing a parallel with Orwellian doublethink (complete with passages of 1984 narrated by Rodchenkov) is a nice touch.


"A film is a petrified fountain of thought."

(CC) BY-NC 2003-2023 Priyan Meewella

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