Making "The Recruiter"
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.
Question: Why did you make the documentary The Recruiter?
Edet Belzburg: It was 2004, and I was really just not satisfied with what I was reading about the war and, in particular, about the soldiers. I felt that, you know, in every paper, there would be a list of the soldiers who died, which is their names, the town they were from and their age. And sometimes there would be a photograph. And I felt very disconnected from what was happening and from the people who were serving. And when I did find out any information about them or who they were, why they joined, it was once they had been killed. So I really didn’t know what I wanted to do at first. But I started getting subscriptions to all sorts of magazines and newspapers. One of which was the Army Times. And I was reading that for a few months, I think, until I read an article about Sergeant Usie. And he had just won the Army Times Soldier of the Year award, in part, for being one of the most successful recruiters in the United States. There was a picture of him, you know, leading, like, running with a group of high school students who were his new recruits. And they were so young. And I thought, wow, I want to know why he’s so successful, who these kids are before they join, before they become soldiers, while they’re still in high school. And so I gave him a call. He got on the phone. I told him that I was interested in doing a documentary film. We spoke for a few minutes. He agreed. And then I said, “That’s great.” And, you know, we hung up. And then about ten seconds later, the phone rang again and he said, “Well, you know, this is going to have to actually go through Army chain of command.” And I said, “No, I figured that.” And then a process began really for me to get access and get approval from the Army.
Question: How did you get permission from the Army to film?
Edet Belzburg: It actually was remarkably, I don’t want to say easy but, uncomplicated. They just asked me to write a letter. I did. I wrote a very short letter just explaining what I wanted to do, that I wanted to follow Sergeant Usie and a few of his recruits. They did a background check on me, which I learned later, after people, you know, people who called me and told me that they received phone calls from the Army. And that was it. And then I signed a contract with them, which I have to say was one of the most filmmaker-friendly contracts I’ve ever received. And it really gave us an enormous amount of flexibility and control. It ultimately became, I think, based-- it was based on my relationship more than anything, because the Army gave me the approval. But at any point, any of the soldiers or the recruiters could have said, no, we don’t want to do this anymore. But I think I built a good relationship with them. And then, also, when I was at basic training, again, it was at the discretion of the drill sergeants and the public affairs people there, at the different bases, to decide, you know, how long we would stay, what we would do. And so that’s what happened.
Question: Did you know you wanted to film young recruits?
Edet Belzburg: I really, you know, he had a number of recru-- when I arrived, there were a few recruits who were already shipping off to basic training. There were a number of kids, and they were in the group that would be there for another year before they shipped. So that was one reason. It really just happened. I was looking, you know, they all had different reasons for joining. And to me that was interesting, you know. Their backgrounds were all varied. And so it just really fell into place that way. And I found them all very compelling.
Question: Does filming young people create unique challenges?
Edet Belzburg: If anything, it opens things up. Because you really, you know, I mean, specifically to this film, I mean, they’re at such a specific point in their life. Who can’t remember being 17? You know, and college seemed so distant. And leaving home and kind of the vulnerability and fear and excitement of that age and everything is in front of you. And I think that was what was interesting. I think, you know, to be with them before they actually went through basic training, went from civilian to soldiers and made that transition, I wanted to be with them at the point in their life before that so we could know who they were before and why they made those decisions.
Question: Was filming in boot camp intimidating?
Edet Belzburg: No, it was incredible. It was really incredible. I mean, that was-- it was really unbelievable on so many different levels. But, one, you know, it is this incredibly stimulating experience, which I didn’t really anticipate. But, you know, it would take me, like, a week to get over a week to be there because you’re just so charged after being there. But it was, you know, the first few weeks of boot camp, the kids go through a tremendous amount. It’s really that transition from civilian to soldier, where it’s the total control period, where they can’t do anything. They can’t read anything. It’s the very stereotypical scene of the sergeants yelling at you and being treated inhumanely. And then that slowly changes. They have the red and blue and then white phase of boot camp, which they go through. And the red is the really intense one. But boot camp was, you know, what they go through-- the different trai-- it seems so distant now, my god. The different training for-- infantry training’s very different than just combat support. And so Fort Benning and Fort Jackson all ha-- you know, are very, very different. And the training is very different. But it was a very intense experience, and seeing what they went through was incredible. So yeah.
Recorded on: 07/16/2008
Edet Belzberg discusses how she made her recent documentary about recruiting for the military.
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Beards and perceptions of masculinity<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5OTg0MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NzkxMjM3N30.cH-GqNwP5GVqvstgJWAhBPn1B_lYpVEAI0I7iax7EQw/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C1900%2C0%2C849&height=700" id="caae6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="cb0a355a4e8e1899789bc45f3f7aef56" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Photo Credit: Wikimedia<p>The study used 919 American (mostly white) women ages 18-70 who rated 30 pictures of men they were shown with various stages of facial hair growth. The photographs depicted men with faces that had been digitally altered to look more feminine or more masculine, with a beard and without a beard. The women rated the men according to perceived attractiveness for long-term and short-term relationships. The study found that the more facial hair the men had, the higher the men were rated on their attractiveness, particularly for their suitability for a long-term relationship.</p><p>Part of this might be attributed to facial masculinity — i.e. protruding brow ridge, wide cheekbones, thick jawline, and deeply set narrow eyes — which conveys information to a woman about a man's underlying health and formidability. Women tend to associate more masculine faces with physical strength and social assertiveness. It can also indicate a man with a superior immune response. The researchers suggested that their findings favoring bearded men could be due to the fact that facial hair enhances the masculine facial features on a man's face, like creating the illusion of a thicker jaw line. This could communicate direct benefits to women like resources and protection that would enhance survival among mothers and their infants. In other words, while a beard doesn't mean superior genetics in and of itself, it might be a primitive, ornamental way of saying, "Hey girl, I'm a testosterone-fueled lean, mean, pathogen fighting machine." <br></p><p>It could also be that a beard becomes its own destiny. The researchers in this study cite prior research that found that by growing a beard, men felt more masculine and had higher levels of serum testosterone, which was linked to a higher level of social dominance. They also tended to subscribe to more old-school beliefs about gender roles in their relationships with women as compared to men with clean-shaven faces.<span></span><br></p>
What does disgust have to do with beard preference?<p>Obviously, not all women dig beards. The researchers were particularly interested in what traits make a women prefer bearded men over clean-shaven faces. They looked into several factors including a woman's disgust levels on various concepts, her desire to become pregnant, and her exposure to facial hair in her personal life. </p><p>According to the study, women who were not into facial hair were turned-off by potential parasites or other critters they imagined could be in the hair or skin. Women ranking high on this "ectoparasite disgust" scale might have viewed beards as a sign of poor grooming habits. However, women who ranked higher in levels of "pathogen" did find the bearded men to be desirable, possibly because they perceived beards as a signal of good health and immune function. An intriguing discovery in the study was links to morality. Women who displayed higher levels of "moral disgust," or feelings of repugnance toward taboo behaviors, were more likely to prefer hairy faces. The authors opined that this could reflect a link between beardedness, politically conservative outlooks, and traditional views regarding performances of masculinity in heterosexual relationships.</p>
Additional findings<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5OTg1My9vcmlnaW4uZ2lmIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNDI1NjUyOX0.P9B8WbmJR0q4nfzYZKbuNSA-2SAigVWJgrQE-_Gxlds/img.gif?width=980" id="49143" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2ed3b1d6f20fc170bf2974646e565e8d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />Giphy<p>The correlations that existed between married and single women's rating on the attractiveness of beards were not particularly clear, although the researchers noted that single and married women who wanted children tended to find beards more attractive than the women who didn't want children. They also found that women with bearded husbands found beards to be more attractive, which might indicate that social exposure to beards influences how desirable they are perceived of as being. Or it could be that men with wives who like beards grow beards.</p><p>It's important to note that culture plays a huge role in how attractive women perceive certain male characteristics as being. This study looked at a small, culturally specific group of American women, so no big, universal claims should be made about masculinity, facial hair, and male desirability to women. However, research like this is important in highlighting how human grooming decisions are driven by much more than fashion trends. Sociobiological, economic, and ecological factors all play a part in the way we choose to present ourselves.</p>
Yet 80 percent of respondents want to reduce their risk of dementia.
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Credit: logika600 / Shutterstock<p>Remaining healthy requires regular screenings. Here again we see a disassociation between risk reduction and proactivity. Seventy-seven percent of respondents don't talk to their doctors about lifestyle habits that support brain health; 51 percent have never been screened for depression; 44 percent have never had a neurological exam; and 32 percent have never been screened for hearing problems. </p><p>Common early warning signs of dementia, <a href="https://news.yahoo.com/americans-worry-alzheimers-disease-survey-140644803.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">according to</a> Dr. Jason Karlawish, co-director of the Penn Memory Center, include repetitive questions and stories, difficulties with complex daily tasks, and trouble with orientation. </p><p>In terms of intervention, <a href="https://bigthink.com/21st-century-spirituality/does-lack-of-exercise-lead-to-dementia" target="_self">exercise</a>, <a href="https://bigthink.com/surprising-science/obesity-dementia" target="_self">diet</a>, building a <a href="https://bigthink.com/mind-brain/brain-reserve" target="_self">brain reserve</a>, and challenging your brain (such as learning a new language or musical instrument) are all proven methods for staving off the ravages of Alzheimer's. Oxytocin has also <a href="https://bigthink.com/mind-brain/alzheimers-oxytocin" target="_self">showed promise</a> in brain-addled mice, while researchers found positive results for a <a href="https://bigthink.com/mind-brain/intermittent-fasting" target="_self">group of intermittent fasters</a> in promoting neurogenesis. </p><p>Epidemiologist Bryan James says that dementia is <a href="https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2013/04/15/176920391/how-exercise-and-other-activities-beat-back-dementia" target="_blank">not an inevitable result</a> of aging. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"It's simply not pre-destined for all human beings. Lots of people live into their 90s and even 100s with no symptoms of dementia." </p><p>Professor of neurology at Boston University School of Medicine, Andrew Budson, <a href="https://news.yahoo.com/americans-worry-alzheimers-disease-survey-140644803.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recommends</a> aerobic exercise and the Mediterranean diet. As has long been known, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, fish and shellfish, and healthy fasts like nuts and olive oil seem to have brain-boosting properties. </p><p>To learn more, take the <a href="https://www.mdvip.com/brain-health-iq-quiz" target="_blank">Brain Health IQ quiz</a>.</p><p><span></span>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>