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Reactions to "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: How did Sergeant Usie react to your depiction of him?
Edet Belzburg: Right before the Sundance Film Festival, I went to Houma and showed it to everyone who was involved, or, portrayed in the film. And I watched it with Sergeant Usie and his wife. And he was very concerned. He didn’t want anyone else to see it at first. And he liked it. And then he asked me if I would come to his parents’ house, and he invited his family and his daughters to watch it. And they loved it, and that was very important to me.
Question: How have audiences reacted to the film?
Edet Belzburg: Varied. You know, it really depends. Sundance, it was fantastic. And what was really beautiful was-- at the film festival, they always have one screening in Salt Lake City rather than Park City. And I knew it would be a very different crowd, and I knew it would be more of a military-oriented crowd. And I was completely taken aback at the response. The audience was filled with family members of soldiers who were currently serving, with veterans from Vietnam, with former Marines. And there was just, you know, mothers were crying and thanking me for telling their children’s story, offering their sons’ journals to post on our Web site, you know. It was an incredible reception to the film. They felt that it was a very honest portrayal. And I think, also, they didn’t know what their kids had experienced in basic training and what they went through. It’s very difficult to explain that. And so I think, when they saw what they did go through, it gave them-- they felt clos-- they understood a little bit what their kids were going through at the time.
Question: What lessons did you learn from filming the documentary?
Edet Belzburg: I think the relationship between Sergeant Usie and some of the kids. That he really does become like a surrogate father or brother for these kids. That, you know, there are definitely economic reasons why kids join. There are patriotic reasons why kids join. And then but there are also emotional reasons, you know. That he fulfills that for them at this very vulnerable period in their lives as well. You know, when he’s doing that, has that run with Chris, you know, you can’t help but, you know, think, my god, you know, he’s saying so many things that we would all want to hear at any point in our lives of encouragement and belief in his potential. And I think he needed that. And especially, you know, at that age, he was craving that. He was able to give that to these kids at that time. I don’t think I was expecting that, you know, that he really would fulfill also emotionally some of the needs of the kids at the time.
Recorded on: 07/16/2008
Edet Belzberg details the reaction to her expose on military recruitment.
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