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The Feeling of Being Watched: The Long-term Effects of Mass Surveillance

Written by on 24th February 2019

Katharina Moos Bille

In an eye-opening insight into institutional religion in the US and ethnic bias, Assia Boundaoui weaves together a portrait of the strong and warm community that has endured it. 

The documentary The Feeling of Being Watched portrays the Muslim community in Bridgeview, Chicago and how the FBI’s so-called Vulture Betrayal investigation instilled a base-level of paranoia in its members. 

Journalist Assia Boundaoui who grew up in the community launches an investigation into whether there was ever substantial evidence to justify the continued mass surveillance, started as a result of Vulture Betrayal. 

Boundaoui takes the audience through a freedom of information lawsuit to release FBI records of the information and her 

Parallel to the narrative of the Vulture Betrayal investigation, it runs a portrayal of the tight-knit Bridgeview Muslim community and the effects the surveillance has had on them. 

The documentary does an excellent job of presenting accounts of being followed, FBI visits and general surveillance, while questioning how much of it is real considering the widespread paranoia created by Vulture Betrayal in the community. 

The film had a very Vice-like feel, appearing somewhat low-budget in terms of crew, with seemingly just Boundaoui and a cameraman. However, the intimacy it allowed for helped establish a personal connection between the content matter, through Boundaoui, and the audience. 

Boundaoui’s family is heavily featured in the documentary and especially her mother, who  works great throughout the film as comic relief, as she moans at the TV when a picture of Donald Trump appears. 

The court hearings were told through courtroom sketches and historical accounts were told both through animated timelines and home videos, all adding layers of texture to the visual presentation of the documentary. 

Throughout the documentary, editing is often used to create the feeling of being under surveillance and the paranoia it creates. While it was effective in creating a mood in the beginning, the continued use felt like a sensationalization of something that was gruesome enough to stand on its own. 

However, what really carried the documentary home was the level of vulnerability Boundaoui allowed herself to show in the journalistic process. She both portrays the frustration with lack of support and stagnation of progression, and also the very legitimate fear going up against powerful institutions. 

The Feeling of Being Watched was a great insight into Muslim communities in the US and their continued struggle with institutionalized ethnic and religious discrimination, told by the community itself. 

The documentary is up for Glasgow Film Festival audience award which aims to highlight first or second-time directors. Boundaoui is one of six women nominated in the category this year. 

Tickets were provided by Glasgow Film Festival.

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