Patriotism Defined

Edet Belzberg is a documentary filmmaker whose coverage of the life of Romanian street children in the film "Childeren Underground" won her both acclaim and criticism for its depiction of the child abuse. Her latest film, "The Recruiter" premiered at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. It portrays a top U.S. army recruiter and his relationship with four of his recruits as they complete high school and go through basic training.

Belzberg received a B.A. in 1991 from the University of Colorado, Boulder and an M.A. in 1997 from the School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University. She received the Columbia University School of Journalism's John M. Patterson Enterprise Award in 1997 for her documentary short "A Master Violinist," about a Chinese political refugee. Belzberg made Children Underground with assistance from the Soros Documentary Fund (now the Sundance Documentary Fund). The film won the Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival (2001), and received the Best Documentary Film Award from the International Documentary Association (2001), as well as nomination for an Oscar. Her 2005 documentary, Gymnast, studied three American female gymnasts preparing for the Olympic Games. In 2005, she received the MacArthur "Genius" award, about which she says, "This is life-altering and seemingly unfathomable. It provides a documentary filmmaker with an incredible amount of freedom."

She lives in New York City, where she has been a frequent guest lecturer on urban reporting and documentary filmmaking at the Columbia School of Journalism, and has also taught at NYU.
  • Transcript


Edet Belzburg:  I belive that, I mean, for me, I think that we should a-- Sergeant Usie says something in the film that I really agree with.  He talks about national service.  And I think that’s something that-- many of the kids just wanted to do something for their country.  Bobby wanted to-- actually really wanted to serve his country.  And military was something that, you know, that his father and grandfather both, you know, his father served, and his grandfather served.  And so that’s something that was important for him to continue.  But other kids also really wanted to serve their country.  They really didn’t know how.  And I think, the idea of, you know, AmeriCorps and Peace Corps, I mean, these kids didn’t know those options were available to them.  But, for me, I really think that a year to do something, whether it’s, you know, work at a homeless shelter, teach or something, giving something back for a year, I think, is important.  And I think that everyone can benefit from that.  So I do think that giving something back in some way, you know, and I think that’s a beautiful time, between high school and college, to actually do that.  It can be an incredibly enriching experience.  But there were a number of kids who wanted to belong to something larger, who wanted to feel that they were doing something important.  And the Army, at that point, seemed a way to do it.  But there are so many other things that people can do.  And so I think that giving something back, I think, is one of the most patriotic things that we can all do.

Question: Should the Army be recruiting older people?

Edet Belzburg:  I know Sergeant Usie would probably disagree with me. But I think, you know, that-- and Lauren says that she felt that she was too young to make that decision. And actually Bobby’s father says, you know, “Old men start wars that young men fight.” And I think that’s very true. But I think that, you know, I do think it’s a very young age to recruit people. And I think that there are-- disproportionately there, you know, South is disproportionately represented. People from certain economic backgrounds are disproportionately represented. So I think that there are certain groups in this country who, you know, that are disproportionately represented in the armed forces.

Question: Is there anything that you would not film?

Edet Belzburg:  If it doesn’t have to do with the story that we’re telling and I feel-- if it’s something that’s happening in someone’s life that really doesn’t have to do with the film itself and it can feel exploitative in some way or another, then yeah.

Question: Do you think that we should be filming the caskets coming back from Iraq?

Edet Belzburg:  Absolutely, 100 percent.  I think it’s terrible that we’re not showing more of what’s happening. But absolutely should be filming the caskets.  We should know the families.  We should know as much as possible about the people who’ve given their lives for this war.  I see no reason.  I think it’s terrible that we are not more connected to the soldiers who have been killed and have given their lives for this war.

Recorded on: 07/16/2008