What can you do when the very ingredients that bind your community together are what put you on the FBI’s radar? This is the question that director Assia Boundaoui wrestles with in The Feeling of Being Watched.
Using her journalistic background, Boundaoui uncovers tens of thousands of pages of FBI documents that prove (not only to viewers but to her own community) that Boundaoui’s quiet Arab-American neighborhood outside Chicago was the subject of one of the largest counterterrorism investigations ever conducted in the U.S. before 9/11.
If Citizenfour concretized the scope of the surveillance state, The Feeling of Being Watched reminds us that, while surveillance is an issue for all Americans, certain communities are affected differently. What director Boundaoui shows us is how much courage it takes to stand up for your community for the long haul, to portray Muslim Americans as they are, complex individuals who practice freedom of religion in a country that’s deemed that freedom a gray area. We meet mothers who were visited by the FBI and get to know the children whose parents were targeted. Most importantly we see an Arab-American (and vastly Muslim) community reflected to and by itself. While Boundaoui asks her community to relive the most traumatic events in their lives, she also bravely puts herself and her family in front of the lens. Through their story the director builds a collective experience of this surveillance and its lasting impact.
Boundaoui successfully takes the surveillance state to task, bringing personal stories out into the open and shedding a light on one of the darker stains on American democracy.
The Feeling of Being Watched will be available on POV on 10/14/2019. Follow The Feeling of Being Watched on Facebook, Twitter, and the film’s website, and follow Assia Boundaoui on Facebook and Twitter.
Jannette Angelle Bivona is a San Francisco-based multidisciplinary film professional working across development, production, exhibition and criticism.