Skip to content

CIFF 2018: United Skates & The Feeling of Being Watched

October 18, 2018



Racial discrimination and profiling can be found in “United Skates” and “The Feeling of Being Watched”, two of the twenty-two documentaries on the lineup at this year’s Chicago International Film Festival (CIFF). These particular documentaries, both directed by women with passion and purpose, set out to show how a minority community and culture have been and remain unfairly viewed by business owners and law enforcement authorities. The two powerful films premiered this past April at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival may be eye-opening for some viewers, but others may find what they see here sadly all too familiar and quite relatable. Either way, they cover important and relevant topics in an observant and immersive manner, offering an informative and enriching experience.

“United Skates” screened last weekend at CIFF, but don’t worry since it will have a theatrical release on November 30th. Be on the look out for it then. While there’s no theatrical release date set for “The Feeling of Being Watched”,  it screens today and tomorrow and I have my hopes up that a distributor will pick it up and one will be announced soon. Below are my thoughts on both documentaries with Chicago connections…





(89 min.) directed by: Dyana Winkler and Tina Brown

It comes as no surprise that roller skating rinks have been closing down now for years. Just last year I attended the closing week of one in suburban Chicago. It felt like time travel. I’m certain anthropologists can attest that something that was once a physical activity that provided a place for people to come together and hang out for hours, has been replaced by the solitary use of tablets and smartphones. People are still connecting, just rarely in person and rarer still by doing something physically active. The decline of skating rinks has been particularly felt in the African-American community, many of whom have skated with their friends and families for decades and now feel a dramatic void that fun, joy and social enrichment once filled. Directors Dyana Winkler and Tina Brown take viewers across the country, from Los Angeles to Chicago to North Carolina, introducing us to and then checking back with the avid skaters and rink owners who lament the decline of their rink locations. As heartbreaking as some of the coverage is – especially when it’s clear that it’s been proven that kids are safer on the rink floor than they are out on the street –  the tone of the film isn’t a downer, it’s rather a charming celebration of an activity that has been embraced for more than five decades. While land values and property taxes have forced closures, the impressive skating footage Winkler and Brown offer (along with whip-smart editing from Katharine Garrison) is infectious and reminds us of the lively and fascinating environment that skating provides. The directors delve into what African-American skaters have endured over the years – from rink segregation of the 50’s to scrutiny over what kind of skates or wheels they’re allowed to use in certain rinks (enforced by white rink managers/owners) today – while offering viewers some rewarding insight and education (unless you already knew about “slippery wheels,” “JB style,” throws, snapping and slow-walking) into this subculture.






(86 min.) directed by: Assia Boundaoui

All I knew going into this documentary was that it had something to do with surveillance, little did I know I would become increasingly incensed at how the FBI has surveilled and investigated people of color for decades. Not that I was entirely surprised by this, it’s just that the details in which director/journalist Assia Boundaoui presents this information is straight-up disturbing. She not only helmed this informative documentary, she also places herself in the center of it since she and her family have experienced this surveillance firsthand in their tight-knit Arab-American community in Bridgeview, Illinois since the mid-90s. It started when she noticed someone working on the phone line outside her bedroom window at 3am and soon it would become clear by the mysterious parked vehicles that would show up wherever they went (be it home, the store or the local mosque). In her effort to get to the bottom of it all, Boundaoui began her own investigation, in which she uncovers thousands of redacted documents which listed names of her family and neighbors, as well as the pre-911 investigation of her specific location code-named “Operation Vulgar Betrayal”, spear-headed by FBI agent Robert Wright, Jr., who worked on the Chicago division that focused on terrorists with links to the Middle East. What unfolds is an eye-opening expose on the kind of racial profiling that’s been going on for years (decades, actually), but what stands out the most in this documentary is how vulnerable and open Boundaoui is with her past and own experiences of racial prejudice and profiling. She includes many of her family members and neighbors, who share their own memories, but it’s her presence that sets the personal tone to a revealing and engaging film. In the end, I wound up leaving with many questions, but not nearly as many as Boundaoui has had during her investigations.


Thursday, October 18th at 5:30pm & Friday, October 19th at 3:30pm (scheduled to director Assia Boundaoui)




No comments yet

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: