SIPA Alumna Edet Belzberg Receives MacArthur ‘Genius’ Award

December 15, 2007

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.

David Carroll David Carroll
Naturalist Author/Illustrator
Warner, New Hampshire
Age: 64
David Carroll has the eye of an artist, the mind of a scientist, the voice of a great storyteller, and the soul of a conservationist.  An illustrator, author, and naturalist for over forty years, he has made voluminous, detailed observations of the ecology of the deciduous hardwood forests and wetland habitats around New England, especially near his home in central New Hampshire.  His understanding of the plants and animals that comprise these natural systems makes him a valuable resource for herpetologists, ecologists, and conservationists, providing a meticulous chronicle of life in areas threatened by human encroachment and imparting essential insights for those attempting to protect them.  Freshwater turtles are the central focus of his studies, particularly the increasingly rare spotted and wood turtles.  With an artist’s sensibility, David Carroll immerses himself in wetland environments, gaining a deep understanding of the lives of swamp-dwelling creatures and the threats to their survival.  He has published four books on aspects of natural history and wildlife preservation, including Swampwalker’s Journal (1999), detailing his expeditions and illustrated with precise sketches and maps, and Self-Portrait with Turtles (2004), a memoir that describes his lifelong fascination with swamps and the creatures that inhabit them.  Through his artwork, writing, fieldwork, and speaking, Carroll helps people of all ages see the beauty, history, and value in swamps, marshes, bogs, kettle ponds, and rivers.

David Carroll received a B.F.A (1965) from Tufts University.  He is the author and illustrator of Trout Reflections (1993) and The Year of the Turtle (1996), in addition to his more recent books.  Carroll’s artwork has been exhibited at such institutions as the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, Dartmouth College Museum and Galleries, and the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center at the University of Connecticut.  He is also an active lecturer and consultant to conservation institutions throughout New England.


David and Mammoth

Born on December 2, 1946, David was eleven when his parents moved from England to Bloomfield, New Jersey. He found himself having to adjust from an idyllic English childhood to life in a fast-paced American city. During this period of change, he began to draw seriously. So exciting did he find this process that he chose to pursue an undergraduate education at the Rhode Island School of Design. He received a bachelor’s degree in architecture, then spent his fifth year at RISD in the European Honors Program, studying in Rome, Herculaneum, and Pompeii.After a short period working as an interior designer, a junior high school teacher, and a teacher at RISD, Macaulay began to experiment with writing and illustrating books. His first book, Cathedral, was published in 1973. Since then, he has created a number of spectacular books about various subjects, including the construction of a Roman city (City), the erection of the monuments to the pharaohs (Pyramid), the building of medieval fortresses (Castle), and the evolution of a New England mill town (Mill), as well as such picture books as Rome Antics, Shortcut, and Black and White (a Caldecott Medal Winner).

David Macaulay’s elaborate show-and-tells have made him beloved by adults and children throughout the world. His books have sold more than two million copies in the United States alone and his work has been translated into a dozen languages. Three of his titles-Cathedral,Castle, and Pyramid- have been made into popular PBS television programs. Macaulay has garnered a number of awards: the Caldecott Medal and Honor Awards, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, the Christopher Award, an American Institute of Architects Medal, the Washington Children’s Book Guild Nonfiction Award, a Hans Christian Anderson Award nomination, the Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis, a Dutch Silver Slate Pencil Award, and the Bradford Washburn Award, presented by the Museum of Science in Boston for an outstanding contribution to science.

David Macaulay lives with his family in Rhode Island.



Speaking Engagements
Mr. Wiseman is available for lectures and workshops. Requests for guest appearances should be made well in advance. Please contact Karen Konicek at

Frederick Wiseman, Chronicler of the Western World

Philippe Pilard (originally published in La Sept/Arte)

Fred Wiseman is probably one of today’s greatest living documentary filmmakers. For close to thirty years, thanks to the Public Broadcast Service (PBS), he has created an exceptional body of work consisting of thirty full length films devoted primarily to exploring American institutions. Over time these films have become a record of the western world, since now more than ever as we approach the century’s close, nothing North American is really foreign to us.

The institutions that Wiseman examined early in his career – a hospital, a high school, army basic training, a welfare center, a police precinct – have “problems” that the filmmaker uncovers. His approach reveals the profound acknowledged and unacknowledged conformity and inequality of American society. Wiseman’s films are also a reflection on democracy. What do his films portray, the “American dream” or the “air conditioned nightmare”? Both, but also a questioning of the world and of existence.

Occasionally, his films describe less circumscribed institutions – the world of fashion, a public park, and a ski resort. In addition to examining the social and ethical questions he is not afraid to confront the “big” metaphysical questions particularly in the films about handicapped children and dying patients. The filmmaker is trying to encompass all of human experience in his films.

In the past, Wiseman had already made movies outside the borders of his own country, in the Sinai, in Germany, and in Panama. In each of these films, however, his subject was Americans abroad.

In 1993, in his film BALLET, he followed the American Ballet Theatre rehearsals in New York and performances in Europe. For a long time Wiseman had wanted to make a film in France and in 1995 he tackled that most French of institutions, The Comedie Francaise. Both in BALLET and LA COMÉDIE-FRANÇAISE Wiseman raises questions about the conditions necessary for artistic creation: how to create those conditions which allow a director, an actor, or a dancer to achieve the goal of a perfect even sublime performance; how the specific dialect for the theatre works, the dialect which both places in opposition and transcends the solitude of individual creation and group collaboration.

“Documentaries, like theatre pieces, novels or poems are forms of fiction,” claims Wiseman. Over the years his films have become more a skillful mix of observation, testimony, reflection, an absence of prejudice, and courage, and humor. A complex body of work, as great works of fiction (novels, drama, music, and film) can be, with the same profundity, contradictions, and questions without answers.


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