Briarcliff Acquires 'Icarus' Director's Khashoggi Film 'The Dissident'

The Dissident - Sundance - PREMIERES DOCU - Publicity - H 2020
Courtesy of Sundance

Tom Ortenberg's new company is planning a theatrical and VOD release for the film in late 2020.

The Dissident, Bryan Fogel's documentary feature about the 2018 killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi Arabia, which has been likened in reviews to the narrative thriller Spotlight, will be distributed in the U.S. by Briarcliff Entertainment.

Briarcliff, appropriately enough, is the new distribution company run by Tom Ortenberg, who, in his previous capacity as the chief of Open Road Films, distributed Spotlight en route to its best picture Oscar win in 2016.

The Dissident, which was financed by the Human Rights Foundation, had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival back in January, where — despite receiving raves (from critics and others including Hillary Clinton and Alec Baldwin) and despite the fact that Fogel's previous film Icarus was awarded the best documentary feature Oscar in 2018 — it was met with resistance by established distributors, a number of which have business entanglements with the House of Saud.

Briarcliff, evidently, was undeterred by such considerations and is planning a theatrical and VOD release for the film in late 2020, along with other events to coincide with the second anniversary of Khashoggi's assassination.

HanWay Films will handle international sales of the film.

The Dissident features the exclusive participation of Hatice Cengiz, who was Khashoggi’s fiancee; Omar Abdulaziz, a young Saudi activist with whom Khashoggi was secretly collaborating; and Turkish intelligence officials who provided Fogel with the transcript of Khasoggi's final moments alive.

UTA Independent Film Group orchestrated both the domestic distribution and international sales deal on behalf of the filmmaking team.

"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," Fogel said in a statement. "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."

Added Ortenberg, "Bryan Fogel is 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."

Meanwhile, Cengiz, who was to marry Khashoggi, said, "When Bryan shared his idea to make the film, I was initially reluctant. But as we worked together, I came to realize that Bryan believed in Jamal's cause and values. 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."

Fogel is represented by UTA and attorney Daniel Passman.