NATCHITOCHES – A documentary film produced by a member of Northwestern State University’s New Media faculty won an Alfred I. duPont Award and will be featured on the The Today Show on Monday, Jan. 20. The film, “Love Them First,” tells the story of Mauri Melander Friestleben, principal at Lucy Laney Elementary, an underperforming public elementary school in a high-poverty neighborhood in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Melody Gilbert, NSU assistant professor and documentary filmmaker, will be in New York next week to receive the duPont Award, along with a team from KARE 11 in Minneapolis. The Alfred I. duPont–Columbia University Award honors excellence in broadcast journalism in public service and is considered one of the most prestigious awards in journalism. The documentary was also nominated for an Emmy award.
“Today Show host Hoda Kotb saw the film on a plane recently and fell in love with it and invited Principal Mauri Friestleben to be on the show on Martin Luther King Day,” Gilbert said. “I am proud to be a producer and story consultant on this award-winning documentary.”
The Today Show airs live from 6-10 a.m. CST on NBC.
Gilbert screened the film on the NSU campus last fall. The project began as a series of stories by a team from KARE 11 News over the course of one year and follows Friestleben’s struggle to lift her school from the bottom of Minnesota’s underperforming schools list. Reviewers call it a story of inspiration, heartbreak, perseverance and the power of love.
Gilbert is in her first year on faculty in NSU’s Department of New Media, Journalism and Communication Arts. She is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and film professor who has directed, produced, shot and sometimes edited seven feature-length documentaries since 2002. She served as a producer for other documentary projects, including “Beneath the Ink,” which was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Short Documentary; “Women Outward Bound” (2016/PBS) and the James Beard award-winning “The Starfish Throwers” (2015).
Prior to making independent documentaries, Gilbert was an award-winning broadcast journalist at TV stations around the country for many years. Her specialty was investigative reporting and covering the arts. She was also a freelance producer for networks including CBS, ABC and NBC News on assignment for the nightly news and the morning shows such as Today and Good Morning America.
Last year, Gilbert launched a series of film screenings at NSU, including “Love Them First,” and “Silicone Soul,” which premiered on STARZ in October.
“Love Them First” is available to watch for free, along with a discussion guide on the website. The trailer and information can be viewed at www.lovethemfirst.com.