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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. 


THE FEELING OF BEING WATCHED to air on POV on October 14th, 2019


Learn more about POV's 32nd season here.


December 31, 1969

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Festivals & Awards

Tribeca Film Festival


“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


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


This riveting film is at once a personal story, a journalistic thriller and an essay on the nature of paranoia.”

-Ben Kenigsberg, The New York Times

[A] courageous, eye-opening documentary about the power of journalism…Both a thriller and an organizing tool.”

-Film Comment

Boundaoui’s smart, unsettling documentary functions both as a real-world conspiracy thriller and a personal reflection on the psychological strain of being made to feel an outsider in one’s own home.”

-Guy Lodge, Variety

[Boundaoui] turns exhaustive research into an art form in her scintillating doc.”

-The Village Voice


Inverse Surveillance Project

Inverse Surveillance Project takes its names from the concept of citizen under-sight, an action undertaken by the subjects of surveillance, of the systems of surveillance. It is the community engagement and impact strategy for the award-winning, recently premiered film, THE FEELING OF BEING WATCHED (Tribeca 2018). 

Building on the vital truth captured in the film about America’s national security state and how it impacts those targeted, the Inverse Surveillance Project engages in community storytelling and AI fueled truth-seeking to, on the one hand nurture a collective healing in American Muslim communities, and compel a radical transparency in government records and data. 

We use free screenings, modes of participatory storytelling, community town hall gatherings, public art interventions, FOIA trainings and crypto-workshops in key American Muslim communities across the country, and digitally on an interactive online platform, to create a space for communities traumatized by surveillance to build power, seek truth and heal. We intend to use AI to imagine what government accountability might look like and code a truth-seeking mechanism that helps us understand the root causes, patterns of suffering and social impact of U.S. government surveillance on communities of color.

This campaign has received supported from:  PILLARS Fund; MacArthur Foundation; Ford Foundation; Chicago Media Project; New America Foundation; MIT Open Documentary Lab/ Co-Creation Studio; PBS “POV”;  Firelight Media; and M Power Change.