“Feeling of Being Watched” at Chicago Film Fest

Chicago-made doc explores
an FBI operation that
surveilled more than
500 mosques, schools,
and businesses of
American Muslims for
more than a decade

In The Feeling of Being Watched, journalist Assia Boundaoui investigates the legitimacy and scope of the FBI Chicago’s “Operation Vulgar Betrayal.”

Vulgar Betrayal profiled and followed hundreds of members of the Muslim American community in Boundaoui’s hometown of Bridgeview, Illinois, during the 1990s and early 2000s.

The Feeling of Being Watched premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and received the Audience Award at both the Camden International Film Festival and the Blackstar Film Festival. Its hometown premiere will take place at the 54th Chicago International Film Festival (CIFF) on October 18 at 5:30 pm and October 19 at 3:30 pm.

To sum up just some of what her documentary reveals, Boundaoui states, “We found that for more than a decade, the FBI in Chicago had surveilled more than 500 individual mosques, schools, and businesses of American Muslims. They conducted mass profiling. That started as early as the mid-90s… and much of it might still be going on.”



The documentary explores themes of surveillance, prejudice, paranoia, and truth. Boundaoui calls it “a personal investigative film about government surveillance in the neighborhood where I grew up.”

As a journalist, Boundaoui was trained in the art of objectivity. Over the last eight years, she has worked on a variety of projects and stories for NPR, ProPublica, HBO, CNN, Al Jazeera America, and other radio and television organizations.

Despite her journalism background, over the course of filming The Feeling of Being Watched for five years, she realized, “I don’t believe in objectivity, I believe in transparency.”

In the beginning stages of production, Boundaoui attempted to remain objective. However, she soon discovered that not only were family members and friends profiled in Operation Vulgar Betrayal, but she also obtained convincing evidence that she herself was under surveillance throughout filming for attempting to uncover the truth.

Director of Photography Shuling Yong, a Chicago-based filmmaker and Northwestern University alum, recalls, “I watched how the film took a toll on Assia.”

The subject matter was personal, heavy, and scary. Still, Yong emphasizes, “Assia grew over the course of the project.”

As a filmmaker, Boundaoui learned to point the camera at her own experience as a Muslim American and a member of the surveilled Bridgeview community.

Her struggle to utilize the Freedom of Information Act, the genuine fear that goes along with conducting this type of investigative journalism, and her family dynamics make The Feeling of Being Watched an intimate look at the impact of racial and religious profiling.

For more information on screen times at the 54th Chicago International Film Festival, click here.

Contact Joey Filer at Joey@reelchicago.com or follow him on Twitter @FilerJoey.