kidsNew York filmmaker Edet Belzberg was walking down the street when her cell phone rang. On the other end was a total stranger named Daniel J. Socolow, who casually informed her that along with 24 others, she'd been award a $500,000 grant by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Known as the "Genius Awards," the grants (which were made public yesterday) have been awarded annually since 1981 in the form of a series of yearly $100,000 checks to winners (or "fellows"). After the awards are handed out, fellows can do whatever they wish with the money, though it generally goes back into their work. The awards, which cannot be applied for, have become somewhat legendary, both for their mystery and the way they can change the lives of recipients, many of whom have never had the benefits of a steady source of funding for their diverse projects.

Belzberg's best known film is Children Underground, a 2000 work documenting the lives of homeless kids in Bucharest. Regarding the grant, Belzberg was matter of fact about what it would mean to her work. "It's just a huge sigh of relief," she said. "The sources for funding for documentaries has been so limited." Needless to say, she plans to use the money to fund further projects.