Within the space of an hour and a half, Assia Boundaoui’s THE FEELING OF BEING WATCHED, a true story of surveillance by religious and racially biased FBI agents, has the audience riddled with anxiousness and waiting for the next revelation.
Her documentary details the lengthy surveillance of a Muslim community in the United States where Assia grew up. The audience is told about the regular FBI presence in the community and the high level of paranoia created in the town due to ‘the feeling of being watched’. As the film continues, the level of investigation and surveillance carried out by the FBI and their commitment to not revealing the truth of it all is revealed to be further reaching than ever originally thought.
Boundaoui and her family are at the forefront of this documentary and this creates an added tension to the film as the audience develops a connection to the family and follows them on their journey. Boundaoui presents first-person accounts of the FBI presence over the years, from her mother and surrounding neighbours. As the family finds out new information, the audience is there too. The film, in this way, becomes a shared experience. The audience is reacting as the family are reacting – as though we are following the events in real time. Boundaoui’s ability to create this atmosphere makes the film addictive, in a sense, and the audience is glued to the screen to find out what happens next. Boundaoui’s presence in the film creates this personal effect and, therefore, the film does not feel like a camera telling a story: it instead feels like a community showing you their story.
The impact this film has is not just because of the expertise of Boundaoui but because of the truths revealed. The story presented by Assia is one that should be more well-known and widespread. Assia’s relentless commitment and fearlessness to uncover the truth not only reveals the impact this surveillance had on her community but also the government’s unwavering stubbornness to stop her from finding out. The FBI investigation, ‘Vulgar Betrayal’, did not find any terrorists. All it did was fuel tensions between the Muslim community and the police, create paranoia and prove that Islamophobia has been alive and well for too long. The only ‘Vulgar Betrayal’ found was that of the FBI and their abuse of power.
Boundaoui’s documentary has opened the first door to find out how far this surveillance goes and the world should care about finding out more. THE FEELING OF BEING WATCHED is an intense film and an important one. Boundaoui, through her closeness to the subject, has created a new kind of documentary; a documentary for a community, created by the community.