Fearless Women: Melody Gilbert


Keri Pickett

Melody Gilbert is an independent filmmaker and a professor in the Department of New Media, Journalism and Communication Arts.

When entering Melody Gilbert’s office you experience first-hand the creative career she has lived. 

A board is on the wall behind her, filled with tags from the many film festivals she has attended. Below that, a few of the posters of films Gilbert has created that have allowed countless people to tell their stories hang. 

All of these parts combine to showcase Gilbert’s fearless life. 

Gilbert is an independent filmmaker and a professor in the Department of New Media, Journalism and Communication Arts.

From Washington D.C., Gilbert attended Tulane University for her undergraduate studies and earned her master’s from the University of Minnesota.  

She began her career in news media as a journalist, going on to land a job working for the Charlie Rose Show. 

Her career caused her to live in various locations, but for nearly 20 years she worked as a broadcast journalist in different television stations. She worked for 2 years in the Public Broadcasting Service station in Minnesota. 

It was at that time that Gilbert would reveal a reality-shattering truth to the people of Minneapolis. 

“The government was spraying some chemicals in this neighborhood in Minneapolis but people didn’t know it was chemicals, they thought it was some type of weather testing because that’s what the government told them,” Gilbert said. 

When she first pursued this story, she was not aware of the impact that it would have on communities across America. 

“It ended up being a story that was spread all around the country because the government was not just doing this in our town but also in other places,” Gilbert said.  

Gilbert expressed the personal impact this story had on her. Aside from receiving the national Investigative Reporters and Editors award for best investigative reporting, it gave her a bigger sense of meaning that short forms of journalism did not provide.

As her story soared through the American public, seeing the growth of the story and how local senators got involved, the impact resonated with Gilbert.

“It was the beginning of actually understanding that when you spend your time on a story like that, you really feel like you’ve changed lives,” Gilbert said. “That was where doing longer stories clicked for me.”

She mentioned that her favorite part of writing that story was interviewing the leader of the operation that caused the incident. She asked the individual why they simply didn’t tell the truth from the beginning. 

“I will never forget his answer: ‘Well we didn’t lie, we just didn’t tell the whole truth,’” Gilbert said.

After diving into longer forms of storytelling she explored the creative side of documentary filmmaking.

“Not long after that is when I decided to try to do this long-form thing on my own. It was this crazy, ridiculous thing to do. I ended up leaving the TV station and started my own company,” Gilbert said. 

But beginning a company from scratch would not be the easiest thing to finance, especially when she independently films, directs and edits documentaries. That is what led her into teaching. 

“I started to do full-time teaching as a way to support myself and that’s why I love teaching,” Gilbert said. 

She has taught at the American University in Bulgaria, the University of Minnesota and Carleton College. Gilbert joined the faculty of Northwestern State University of Louisiana in 2019.

Since the start of her creative career, Gilbert has created and collaborated in many stories that tell unconventional topics. From people being married at the mall of America, “Married at the Mall,” to people who want to live as amputees, “Whole,” or people that live without pain, “A Life Without Pain,” Gilbert seeks to open conversations. 

The 2018 film she directed, “Silicone Soul,” generates lively discussions about people who have relationships with silicone companions. 

Gilbert dives into unconventional stories and gives these protagonists a chance to voice their perspectives. 

“I care more about the stories I tell and the conversations I start,” Gilbert said. 

Gilbert is not interested in the number of awards she can accumulate. Instead, she focuses on the special moments she shares with the people she meets. 

Her most memorable award ceremony was when she was a producer for “Love Them First: Lessons From Lucy Laney Elementary.”

“The principal of the school was there at the ceremony and she got two standing ovations. Most people don’t go with the protagonists, but her story was so powerful that she did,” Gilbert said. “That wasn’t about me, it was about the story.”

And it is with this mindset, this selflessness and openness to interact with anyone, that Gilbert can create powerful portrayals of stories. She doesn’t shy away from the bizarreness or the heaviness of a situation. She jumps into the opportunity fearlessly and chases her stories. 

To find out more about Gilbert’s films and to see trailers for all her documentaries, go to www.frozenfeetfilm.com.

Edit for Accuracy 3/18

This article was originally published with inaccuracies regarding Melody Gilbert’s broadcasting career.