December 10, 2010

Master’s thesis documentary earns award

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- A thesis project by a recent Southern Illinois University Carbondale graduate is earning top documentary honors.

Lauren Selmon Roberts received the 2010 Directors Guild of America Student Film Award in the “Best African American Student Filmmaker-Eastern Region” category for her documentary about a Liberian orphanage. “Rainbow Town,” is a film that focuses on Ma Feeta, a woman who saved 100 children during the civil war in Liberia, West Africa.

Roberts earned her Master of Fine Arts degree from the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts in May 2010. She received the award in ceremonies last week in New York City. This is her first full-length documentary.

Roberts said she is “deeply honored” by the award. Roberts first met the woman, Ma Feeta, and the children in 2004 while working as an intern for an international relief agency. After working in Liberia for two years, Roberts returned in 2007 with a film crew for the project.

The crew “made a heartfelt effort to shoot, edit, and promote the film,” Roberts said. “It is such a special feeling to finally share what we have been working on for so long with audiences. It was especially special to be able to share it at the Director’s Guild of America Theatre … with other new filmmakers and documentarians from East Coast universities.”

The documentary aired at several grassroots film screening efforts, along with events at New York Fashion Week, and the Museum of Tolerance International Film Festival, Roberts said.

H.D. Motyl, an assistant professor in the Department of Radio-Television, chaired the committee on Roberts’ master’s thesis.

“The footage was gorgeous, beautifully composed shots, wonderful camera movement,” he said. “I knew immediately that this was going to be a quality project.”

Motyl said he worked much more closely with Roberts when he became chair of her thesis committee. When Roberts shared the story of Ma Feeta and the children of Rainbow Town, “I knew this was going to be a special work. And now the rest of the world gets to see just how special this work is and are honoring Lauren for it,” Motyl said.

The award is “a wonderful tribute to Lauren’s hard work over the last three or four years in Liberia and in Southern Illinois,” Motyl said.

“I had only a small part in her journey with this documentary but I am so proud to have that small part in this wonderful piece and to have been able to work with Lauren,” he said. “I truly look forward to her next work. She’s a born storyteller and filmmaker.”

Roberts, the daughter of Kathryn and Dewey Selmon of Norman, Okla., earned her bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism from California State University, Fresno in May 2005.

Roberts’ husband, Will, is set to complete his thesis animation to earn his master’s degree in January. The couple will then move to New York City, where Roberts plans to continue to create social documentaries, and her husband pursues an animation career.

“I will forever remain committed to the entire Rainbow Town effort,” she said.

Proceeds from the film go to helping war-affected students in Liberia go to college, Roberts said. In addition, the Rainbow Town children make one-of-a-kind paintings that are on display, and for sale for $100. Additional information about the film and the Rainbow Town store is available at