By: Trevor Chartrand
Informative and eye-opening, The Dissident is a haunting documentary that’s shockingly timely and relevant, especially considering last week’s siege in Washington. Among other things, this film demonstrates the dangerous potential of social media when used in the wrong way.
Primarily, The Dissident investigates the suspicious death of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a vocal advocate for free speech in Saudi Arabia. Before moving to the United States, anything Khashoggi wrote for Saudi newspapers would be inevitably censored. Disappointed by his monarch’s methods and determined to have his voice heard, Khashoggi’s writing for the Post began to draw attention to the darker side of the Saudi government. Unable to censor his writing in the US, the film alleges that Saudi officials found a new way to silence Khashoggi instead – with a twisted murder and cover-up.
In the wake of Khashoggi’s death, YouTube activist Omar Abdulaziz fears for his life as a colleague of Khashoggi. Together they had been working on a project to prevent the Saudi government from spreading misinformation by using ‘Twitter Flies’ that influence the social-media charged nation. Using Canadian volunteers, Abdulaziz combats the ‘Flies’ with his own ‘Twitter Bees,’ and the two factions essentially fight using multiple twitter accounts to get their respective hashtags trending. Shortly after Khashoggi is discovered funding Adbulaziz’s ‘Bees’ by the Saudi government, he is mysteriously killed during a visit to the Turkish consulate.
The Dissident has a strong sense of pacing and structure, and enough twists and turns to make for an engaging and entertaining documentary – as captivating as any political thriller. Assuming the findings of the film are true, many of the controversial concerns raised by the filmmakers and interview subjects are alarming and upsetting, and bound to give the viewer goosebumps.
Having said that, my most frightening discovery about The Dissident came *after* finishing the movie, while researching for this review. I have come across online user reviews for this film that may have been written by the same ‘Flies’ featured in the documentary. These reviews condemn The Dissident for being false and unjust to a great nation, and tend to be written in broken English. Ironically, these reviews only add creditability to the film – suggesting that these ‘Flies’ do exist and they target anyone with constructive criticism about their government. Heck, I’m even wondering if writing a positive review of this film is enough to have me put on a list somewhere too, heh.
Overall, The Dissident is a documentary that condemns censorship and the abosolute power of totalitarian monarchy, and instead encourages free speech and freedom of information. There’s a lot of relevant parallels in this story to many different parts of the world, making the film incredibly suitable to the world climate in 2021. The film is edited with a smart sense of structure and a flow that will captivate, intrigue – and potentially terrify. It’s a well-made and enlightening film that’s presented in a very blunt, but accessible way.
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Trevor Chartrand: @OhHaiTrebor