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SIPA Alumna Edet Belzberg Receives MacArthur 'Genius' Award

Edet Belzberg

Edet Belzberg, SIPA '97 and documentary filmmaker, was leaving the Jewish Historical Society where she was conducting research for a film when she received an unexpected call on her cell phone. The caller encouraged her to sit down. Fearing something was wrong, Belzberg stopped in the first store she passed, a bedding store. The caller then revealed incredible news -- Belzberg is among 25 people selected as 2005 MacArthur Fellows. Also known as "Genius Awards," the fellowship comes with $500,000 in "no strings attached" support over the next five years.

Because of the foundation's strict, anonymous nomination process, Belzberg didn't even know that she was being considered for such an award. She remained captive on a comfortable bed in the store for nearly an hour before regaining her composure and taking the subway home.

"This is life-altering and seemingly unfathomable," says Belzberg. "It provides a documentary filmmaker with an incredible amount of freedom. I am extremely grateful beyond words to the MacArthur Foundation. It is something I never would have imagined."

Belzberg, age 35, is planning to use the grant for research and development for several films that she has been thinking about over the years. She also will consider starting a fund to help other young documentary filmmakers.

Her signature film, Children Underground, was nominated for an Academy Award in 2002. Belzberg spent four years creating the film, which follows homeless children living in a train station in Bucharest, Romania, and personalizes the dangerous and chaotic world of these children. Critically-acclaimed throughout the United States and Europe, the film has focused international attention on child welfare in post-communist Romania.

Belzberg's characteristically intense and detailed treatment of the lives of children also defines her recently completed film, Gymnast, which follows the top three American female gymnasts for two years before, and two years after, the 2000 Olympics. The film shows what happens to young athletes physically and mentally when they do, and don't, attain their goals.

"We are delighted that SIPA alumna Edet Belzberg has won this richly deserved recognition," says SIPA Dean Lisa Anderson. "Her combination of artistic creativity and public policy impact is precisely what we try to nurture at the School of International and Public Affairs."

Belzberg received a B.A. from the University of Colorado, Boulder and an M.A. from Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs. She is a frequent lecturer at Columbia's Journalism School and has taught at NYU.

Including this year's fellowships, 707 people, ranging in age from 18 to 82, have been named MacArthur Fellows since the program's inception in 1981. In addition to Belzberg, Terry Belanger, Columbia alumnus and former faculty member and assistant dean of Library Service, also has been named a 2005 MacArthur Fellow. Belanger currently is University Professor and Honorary Curator of Special Collections, as well as a rare book preservationist, at the University of Virginia. Belzberg and Belanger join more than 28 other Columbians who have been named MacArthur Fellows, more recently including: Caroline Walker Bynum, Barbara Fields, Edward Hirsch, Richard Howard, Sherry Ortner, Pedro Sanchez, Kara Walker and Patricia Williams.

Published: Sep 20, 2005
Last modified: Sep 20, 2005

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