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children underground

Produced and directed by Edet Belzberg

Nominated, Best Documentary, 74th Annual Academy Awards
Special Jury Award, Sundance Film Festival - Jan. 2001
Gotham Award for Documentary Achievement, Independent Film Producers - Oct. 2001

This modern tale ventures below the streets of Bucharest, Romania, to introduce us to five members of a "family" of orphaned, abandoned or runaway children living in the Piata Victoriei subway station. Ranging in age from nine to the mid-teens, the children beg and steal to buy food and Aurolac, which they sniff to get high.

The intimate cinema verite style of the movie allows the children to speak for themselves, revealing both the horrific conditions of their existence and their uninhibited, distinctive personalities. Cristina uses her rough, boyish looks to enforce her position as the group's leader; Mihai, the most reflective, regrets having left his mother and sister to the whims of his violent father and dreams of a conventional life and family; Ana fled terrible poverty and assumes a motherly role toward Marian, her younger brother; and Macarena has lost nearly all sense of herself after four mind-numbing years of homelessness.

In this tough film, reminiscent of black-and-white reportage of the Depression, first-time director Edet Belzberg tells a riveting, cruel tale of children in Romania at the turn of the millennium, with a style that is immediate, candid, brutal and deeply humanistic. "Children Underground" is a disquieting portrait of a homeless community which is trying to survive its own inferno.

Childhope assisted in the production of "Children Underground," managing the money raised for the film's production, and helping raise additional funds for its completion and final editing.

"The misery 'Children Underground' records is a bitter legacy of the despotic Ceausescu regime, which outlawed contraception and abortion as part of a program to increase the country's work force. As a result, thousands of unwanted children were born to parents living in such poverty that they were unable to care for their offspring ... 'Children Underground' goes out of its way not to sentimentalize its subjects ... There are no caring mommies and daddies waiting in the wings to make things better."

Stephen Holden, The New York Times (9/19/01)

"Filmed with handheld cameras in verite style without narration, 'Children Underground' is a powerful piece of filmmaking."

Lou Loumenick, New York Post (9/19/01)

"First-time filmmaker Edet Belzberg may be the first person to assign any value to the lives of the homeless Romanian youngsters featured in her harrowing documentary."

Elizabeth Weitzman, New York Daily News (9/19/01)