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Love Them First: Lessons from Lucy Laney Elementary

One Year. One Principal. One heartbreaking setback as her failing elementary school struggles to get off “the list.” With unprecedented access over the course of a year, LOVE THEM FIRST follows the determination of a charismatic Minneapolis school principal, Mauri Melander Friestleben, as she sets out to undo history. Not only does Minnesota have the largest achievement gap between black and white children in the United States, Friestleben faced another seemingly impossible obstacle, with Lucy Laney at the bottom of the state’s list of underperforming schools for two decades. Under Friestleben’s leadership, standardized test scores from most black students began rising for the first time, but when the school encounters a heartbreaking setback, Friestleben is forced to confront the true measure of student success at Lucy Laney. It’s a story of inspiration, heartbreak, perseverance and the power of love.

  • Lindsey Seavert
  • Ben Garvin
  • Melody Gilbert
    Silicone Soul, The Summer Help, Women Outward Bound, The Starfish Throwers, Beneath the Ink, Fritz: The Walter Mondale Story, Urban Explorers: Into the Darkness, A Life Without Pain, WHOLE
  • Ben Garvin
  • Lindsey Seavert
  • Janeen Voogelar
  • Mauri Melander Friestleben
    Key Cast
  • Janeen Voogelar
    Executive Producer
  • Ben Garvin
  • Ben Garvin
  • Cornbread Harris
    Original Music
  • Charlie McCarron
    Original Music
  • Project Type:
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 30 minutes
  • Completion Date:
    April 1, 2019
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival
    United States
    April 13, 2019
    World Premiere
    Jury Award best documentary, audience choice award
  • Heartland International Film Festival
    United States
    October 18, 2019
    Official Selection
  • Southern Circuit
    Southern States
    United States
    October 22, 2019
    Official Selection
  • South Texas International Film Festival
    Edinburg, TX
    United States
    September 5, 2019
    "Best National Feature"
Director Biography - Lindsey Seavert


While Lindsey Seavert is an Emmy and Edward R. Murrow award winning reporter, her greatest successes do not sit on a shelf. She is most proud of unearthing untold stories that encourage understanding and bringing them to light.
Her parents were Minnesota public school teachers who gave her the gift of curiosity, so with a book and pencil often in hand, she began writing as a young child, and hasn't stopped since.
She graduated from Indiana University's Ernie Pyle School of Journalism and worked as a reporter at five news stations stretching from Northern Minnesota, Nevada, and Ohio before coming home to the Twin Cities. Lindsey came to KARE 11 in 2012, drawn to KARE 11's unparalleled commitment to storytelling.
The legacy of teaching in her family inspires Lindsey to use stories as a vehicle to educate and serve the community. Her work often focuses on women, families and children, but she is most passionate about bringing a voice to underrepresented communities, which is how she discovered the transformation inside Lucy Craft Laney Elementary school.
When Lindsey is not on assignment, she mentors young journalists, enjoys running, creative writing, and volunteering in the community.
Her greatest rewards are her husband, Ian, and two children. Their son Stellan attends Minneapolis Public Schools, and the couple also has a younger daughter, Phoebe. Lindsey lives in Southwest Minneapolis and enjoys time outdoors at Lake Harriet, exploring neighborhoods and the many treasures of the Twin Cities area.
Lindsey is honored to share the story of an educator who she believes is already well on her way. Love Them First is Lindsey’s first documentary as a director.

Ben grew up in Fayetteville, Arkansas, raised by parents who taught him to remain idealistic about a world that's often dark. As an Emmy and Edward R. Murrow award-winning-photojournalist now at KARE11 TV, Garvin was named 2011 Journalist of the Year by the Minnesota Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and photographer of the year by the Minnesota Press Photographers Association in 2007. In 2017 he served as president of the Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists where he helped overturn a ban on photography in state prisons. His work on assignment for the New York Times was included in the paper's Pulitzer Prize-winning story on food poisoning in 2010. In 2012 Garvin published an award-winning photography book called "Ant Farm, Glimpses of Daily Life in Minnesota".
Previously Garvin worked for the Pioneer Press and Star Tribune in Minnesota, the Christian Science Monitor in Boston and the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire where was named three-time New Hampshire Photographer of the Year.
Garvin studied creative writing at the University of Arkansas before earning a BFA in Visual Journalism with a minor in philosophy from the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York. He lives in South Minneapolis with his wife Jessica, a cellist and baker, and children Arthur, Lewis, Bailey and Netta. Love Them First is Ben’s first documentary as a director.

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Director Statement

Director’s Statement
Ben Garvin and Lindsey Seavert

We first met Lucy Laney principal Mauri Melander Friestleben through our work as daily news journalists on assignment, covering two violent incidents outside the doors of her school – an officer-involved shooting of a black man, and several months later, a drive-by shooting that took the life of a two-year-old child.

We instantly recognized the power in her voice as a fierce protector, an innovator, and an overcomer. Friestleben didn’t try to diminish her students’ fears. She spoke with a surprising honesty and unrelenting love that stayed with us. We sensed as a principal, she carried her own story into that school every morning, and when we followed our instincts as storytellers, the “Love Them First” documentary was born.

Before we began filming, we set an intent to listen and to understand. As white, privileged journalists, we knew there would be deserved skepticism of our motivations. Are we here to pity? Are we here to sensationalize? To get a story and disappear? The school and students had long suffered under the unforgiving headline of “failing” school in the epicenter of a crime-ridden neighborhood.

Our project first began tentatively as a series of stories on KARE 11 News, a test of trust for Friestleben, Lucy Laney staff and the Minneapolis school district. We slowly gained unprecedented access to the daily life at the school, diving into issues like dialect and discipline, or sharing light-hearted moments, like the school’s annual basketball game or picture day.

Over the course of one year, several dozen news stories unfolded into our documentary film, as Ben shot hundreds of hours of footage, always carefully lowering his cameras down to meet the eyes of the children brave enough to talk with a stranger, hoping to lift their voices up to the larger world.

When Lindsey crafted the interviews and footage into a storyline, she abandoned her usual “voiceover” as a reporter, allowing the children’s voices and Friestleben’s own narration to become the vessel for the victories and hardships inside the school.
Friestleben once told us, “If you are in this work, you are in it to change the world.”

Minnesota may have the largest achievement gap between black and white students in the nation, but every community has a failing school. We hope by opening up a window into a world few often see, our audience will think more critically about the change needed in our educational systems, specifically, the inequities and injustices students of color contend with in classrooms every day.

Whether the film leaves you inspired to volunteer, become a tutor or a teacher, or simply offers a new perspective, our greatest desire is that Love Them First leaves a mark on your heart.

We hope you will see Lucy Laney’s children —¬ or the kids in a school across your town — as all of our children, who deserve the same opportunities to learn, no matter the ZIP code, or test score or lasting label.