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THE FEELING OF BEING WATCHED

Synopsis

In the Arab-American neighborhood outside of Chicago where director Assia Boundaoui grew up, most of her neighbors think they have been under surveillance for over a decade. While investigating their experiences, Assia uncovers hundreds of pages of declassified FBI documents that prove her hometown was the subject of one of the largest counterterrorism investigations ever conducted in the U.S. before 9-11 – code-named “Operation Vulgar Betrayal.” With unprecedented access, The Feeling of Being Watched weaves the personal and the political as it follows the filmmaker’s examination of why her community fell under blanket government surveillance. Assia struggles to disrupt the government secrecy shrouding what happened to her neighborhood in the 90’s and probes why her community feels like they’re still being watched today. In the process, she confronts long-hidden truths about the FBI’s relationship to her community. The Feeling of Being Watched follows Assia as she pieces together this secret FBI operation, while grappling with the effects of a lifetime of surveillance on herself and her family. 

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The Filmmakers

Assia Boundaoui Director/Producer

ASSIA BOUNDAOUI is an Algerian-American journalist and filmmaker based in Chicago. She has reported for the BBC, NPR, AlJazeera, VICE, CNN and was the recipient of a first place Mark of Excellence Award from the Society of Professional Journalists. Assia has worked in an editorial capacity on the production of a number of documentary films, including HBO Documentary Films’ MANHUNT (2013) which was awarded an Emmy. Assia has a Masters degree in journalism from New York University and is fluent in Arabic. THE FEELING OF BEING WATCHED is her directorial debut.

Jessica Devaney Producer

JESSICA DEVANEY is a Brooklyn-based producer and communications strategist. Her past films include SPEED SISTERS (Hot Docs, 2015) following a team of Palestinian women race car drivers; the Peabody Award winning short MY NEIGHBOURHOOD (Tribeca, 2012) on Israeli settlement expansion in East Jerusalem, its companion web series HOME FRONT (2011), and Ridenhour Documentary Prize and PUMA Impact Award winning BUDRUS (Berlin, Tribeca, 2010). Jessica’s directorial debut short, LOVE THE SINNER (Tribeca, 2017) explores the connection between Christianity and homophobia in the wake of the shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Her forthcoming films include ROLL RED ROLL, THE RASHOMON EFFECT, and THE FEELING OF BEING WATCHED. Jessica has an M.A. in religion from Wake Forest University and researched gender and nationalism in the Middle East at Georgetown’s Graduate School of Foreign Service in the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies. She is a founder of the Queer Producers Collective and was a 2016 Women at Sundance Fellow. 

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November 15, 2018

RT @Freep_Film_Fest: This looks compelling. @BeingWatchedDOC explores years of FBI surveillance of a Muslim neighborhood in Chicago where d…

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November 15, 2018

RT @AzmatZahra: If you want to learn more about the government's surveillance of American Muslim communities, this film is one of the smart…

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November 14, 2018

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Festivals & Awards

Tribeca Film Festival

2018

“The grey area between paranoia and the truth is a dangerous place,” says filmmaker Assia Boundaoui at the outset of The Feeling of Being Watched. Boundaoui hails from a predominantly Arab-American enclave of Bridgeview, Illinois, just south of Chicago, where rumors of F.B.I. surveillance circulated throughout the ’90s and early ’00s. A public radio journalist by day, Boundaoui sets out to uncover why her family and neighbors were targeted and whether that scrutiny was justified; in the process, she discovers the wide-reaching effects of constant surveillance on the community’s relationships with law enforcement and with each other. 

Fueled by interviews with community members, a dogged pursuit of F.O.I.A. requests, and even Foucauldian theories, The Feeling of Being Watched is an eye-opening look at the perils of xenophobia and prejudice. Despite her own mounting fears as she closes in on the truth of the surveillance program, Boundaoui uses her documentary to boldly take on the F.B.I. and to tirelessly confront racial and religious profiling. “The opposite of surveillance is a two-way gaze,” she says. “It’s about making sure the systems of power also feel watched.” 

—Matt Barone

+ Festival Website

Hot Docs International Film Festival

2018

At 3am one night in the quiet Chicago suburb of Bridgeview, Illinois, 16-year-old Assia Boundaoui was awakened by two men working on the telephone line outside her bedroom window. She woke her mother, who replied, “It’s no big deal, it’s probably just the FBI.” So ingrained was the feeling of being watched, the now-journalist and filmmaker had shrugged off childhood warnings about strange cars parked in the neighbourhood and even her mother checking for bugs under the kitchen table, until now. Speaking to residents, filing requests under the Freedom of Information Act and even taking the FBI to court, Boundaoui uncovers “Operation Vulgar Betrayal,” the largest pre-9/11 counter-terrorism surveillance undertaking in history. Among the thousands of pages of unsealed documents, emotional recollections of her friends and neighbours and unsettling archival footage, Boundaoui shines light not only on the disturbing trajectory of American racial profiling and xenophobia, but the life-altering effects of the death of privacy. - Myrocia Watamaniuk

+ Festival Website