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concordia 23/11/2018 - 12:00AM

CP Concordia screens an urgent film on the reality of being Muslim in America

On Monday November 19th, Cinema Politica Concordia’s audience gathered for the Quebec premiere of THE FEELING OF BEING WATCHED. Those in attendance were lucky enough to encounter not one, but two different films on the theme of profiling and surveillance of minority populations. First, the short film BREATH ANEW by Andrew Chiu was presented as part of the Documentary Futurism project, which Cinema Politica launched this past September. Following this thought-provoking story of an Asian-American refugee set 150 years in the future, the audience witnessed an even more alarming and unsettling narrative: the present-day reality of the lasting impacts of government surveillance on an Arab-American community living in Bridgeview, in the suburbs of Chicago.

Assia Boundaoui’s docu-thriller THE FEELING OF BEING WATCHED follows her fearless investigation into FBI surveillance of her mostly Muslim-populated community. For years—decades even—there have been rumors of surveillance, and members of the community are convinced they are in fact being watched. With a sense of unwavering determination and conviction, Boundaoui eventually uncovers one of the largest pre-9/11 FBI terrorism probes targeting her community. What she reveals is unsettling and blood chilling, to say the least, a state-sponsored injustice that has had an enduring impact on a community struggling to feel safe and free.

In the post-screening discussion, Boundaoui disclosed that she struggled with how personal the project had become for her. Involving herself and her family in the story of what was happening to her community was not an obvious choice at first, but it became one of the pillars of the film. Doing so involves the danger of being targeted even more, so the stakes of this kind of bravery are high. Drawing from Foucault and his theory of the panopticon as well as using her skills in investigative journalism, Boundaoui displays the psychological strain and emotional toll fellow members of her community have had to endure and struggle with. Her film shows the real impact systems of power can have on citizens as well as the reality of being Muslim in America.

As the director, Boundaoui’s intention was to show a community typically portrayed from the outside and afar with an insider’s point of view and perspective. With the rise of Islamophobia throughout the West, more stories like the one compellingly told in THE FEELING OF BEING WATCHED are urgently needed. Although the FBI’s investigation has been ongoing for nearly two decades, there is something eerie watching it continue to unfold in the Trump era. While fostering a hostile environment towards Muslim communities is not new, the stakes and magnitude are a lot higher in the present political moment. In this context, powerful films like THE FEELING OF BEING WATCHED have a vital importance in both showing the fight against systems of power, and through their screenings, fighting those same systems one projection at a time.


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