October 20, 2020 Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film Awarded to "Hold Your Fire," Directed by Stefan Forbes

Second Annual Award to Provide $200,000 Finishing Grant for Film About a Dramatic 1973 New York Hostage Siege and the Birth of Hostage Negotiation

Press Contact: Bill Ryan, Library of Congress, (202) 707-1940, wryan@loc.gov | Joe DePlasco, DKC Public Relations, (212) 981-5125, joe_deplasco@dkcnews.com

A still image from the film "Hold Your Fire," directed by Stefan Forbes. The film is the recipient of the 2020 Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film.

The Better Angels Society, the Library of Congress, and the Crimson Lion/Lavine Family Foundation today announced that the second annual Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film has been awarded to “Hold Your Fire,” a new film directed by Stefan Forbes (“Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story”). The film will receive a $200,000 award.

Produced by Amir Soltani and Tia Wou, "Hold Your Fire" is a feature-length documentary that uncovers the untold story behind the longest hostage siege in New York Police Department history. It happened in January 1973 at a Brooklyn sporting goods store, when four young Black men stealing guns for self-defense were cornered by the NYPD. A violent gun battle ensued and soon a police officer lay dead in the freezing rain. In response, hundreds of police officers poured into Williamsburg intent on carrying out what was then standard NYPD operating procedure: issue an ultimatum and then assault the store with deadly force despite hostages trapped inside.

Into this tense standoff came Harvey Schlossberg, an NYPD officer with a doctorate in psychology who had been tasked with finding a solution to the tragic hostage crises at Attica and the Munich Olympics. Schlossberg’s revolutionary emphasis on communication and de-escalation put him at odds with powerful NYPD superiors but helped stave off a bloodbath and create modern hostage negotiation. Watch a short excerpt from the film here.

Production on “Hold Your Fire” began in 2014. Former New York Police Commissioner William Bratton was instrumental in granting the filmmakers unusually open access to New York City Police Department personnel and materials. Director Stefan Forbes interviewed people on all sides of the conflict, including hostages and gunmen such as Shu’aib Abdur-Raheem, whose perspective sheds new light on the tense 47-hour ordeal. The documentary also features never-before-seen footage and photographs, which help illuminate this watershed event.

The award will be presented in a virtual ceremony on Oct. 20.  The ceremony will include a conversation with the Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden, Ken Burns and the composer and musician Wynton Marsalis discussing the power of storytelling and our collective history.

Established in 2019, the Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film is an annual prize that recognizes a filmmaker whose documentary uses original research and compelling narrative to tell stories that touch on some aspect of American history. 

One hundred and fifty-one films were submitted for consideration earlier this year. An internal committee consisting of filmmakers from Florentine Films and expert staff from the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center, the Library’s state-of-the-art moving image and recorded sound preservation facility, reviewed the submissions. The six finalists were then reviewed by a national jury consisting of: Edward Ayers, the Tucker-Boatwright Professor of the Humanities and president emeritus at the University of Richmond; Andrew Delbanco, the Alexander Hamilton Professor of American Studies at Columbia University and president of the Teagle Foundation; Rachel Dretzin (“Who Killed Malcolm X?”), co-founder of Brooklyn-based Ark Media and a principal producer, director and writer with the company; Dawn Porter (“John Lewis: Good Trouble”), an American documentary filmmaker and the founder of production company Trilogy Films; and Elizabeth Coffman (“Flannery”), documentary filmmaker, film scholar, and inaugural recipient of the 2019 Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film.  The Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden, in consultation with Ken Burns, then selected the winning film.

“’Hold Your Fire’ is an extraordinary examination of policing in America,” Burns said. “As we find ourselves in the midst of reexamining the relationship between police and communities of color, this film resurfaces a critical moment in that history. I applaud Stefan and his producers Amir Soltani and Tia Wou for their masterful work.”

“Ken and I were both awed by this documentary,” said Hayden, the Librarian of Congress. “’Hold Your Fire’ is a searing and powerful look into a little-known moment in history that has profound repercussions for how we understand policing today. We are excited and proud to present the second Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film to Stefan Forbes.”

“We are honored to support this award,” said philanthropists Jeannie and Jonathan Lavine, who provided the funding to The Better Angels Society to endow this award through the Crimson Lion/Lavine Family Foundation. “In a year that has been so challenging for independent filmmakers, we are thrilled to see that so many of them are still looking to history for inspiration, and creating enduring works of art with yesterday’s footage, photos and songs. Steeped in storytelling, “Hold Your Fire” embodies exactly the kinds of work we hoped to honor with this prize – it powerfully lifts up history and makes it a common ground. Congratulations to Stefan Forbes and all the recipients.”

Jeannie Lavine works on several national boards, including The Better Angels Society’s Board of Directors. Jonathan Lavine is the Co-Managing Partner of Bain Capital, a Co-Chair of the Trustees of Columbia University and Chair Emeritus of City Year.

“We're deeply grateful to be recognized by Dr. Hayden, Ken Burns and the panel and to be in the company of such outstanding work by fellow filmmakers” Forbes said. “From the moment we heard about this epic 1970s New York story, we were dying to track down the participants and uncover what really happened. It’s been profoundly moving to meet these survivors and learn about Dr. Schlossberg’s system of crisis intervention and negotiation, which is so badly needed in America today.”

The Better Angels Society has supplemented the Lavines’ award by providing additional awards to the Prize finalists—they awarded $50,000 to "Cured,” directed by Patrick Sammon and Bennett Singer, which tells the David-versus-Goliath story of the activists who challenged the automatic classification of every gay man and woman as mentally ill. Four $25,000 grants were awarded to the finalists:

  • Storming Caesars Palace,” directed by Hazel Gurland-Pooler, an intimate portrait of Ruby Duncan who built a grassroots anti-poverty movement of low-income Black mothers in Las Vegas.
  • Punch 9 For Harold Washington,” directed by Joe Winston, which tells the story of how Washington became Chicago’s first African-American mayor, opened up government to everyone, and paved the way for future political leaders, including President Barack Obama.
  • After Antarctica,” directed by Tasha Van Zandt, which follows polar explorer Will Steger’s journey as an eyewitness to the changes in the polar regions of our planet.
  • "Beethoven in Beijing,” directed by Jennifer Lin and Sharon Mullally, which explores how the iconic Philadelphia Orchestra, dispatched by President Richard Nixon in 1973 to help open the “bamboo curtain” separating the Chinese and American people, now turns to its past as a cultural ambassador to strengthen its precarious future at home.

At the Oct. 20 ceremony, The Better Angels Society will also announce The Better Angels Lavine Fellowship Program, a new mentorship program for filmmakers whose work explores inclusive stories in American history. Each year, beginning in 2020, five filmmakers whose films are not selected as finalists for the Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film but who demonstrate significant potential will be selected as fellows. A panel of expert filmmakers will provide the fellows with mentorship, advice and networking opportunities around both their Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film submissions and their craft overall. Through the Fellowship Program, the Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film will foster the creation of balanced, well-researched American history documentaries, and promising independent filmmakers will receive the same kind of networking and support opportunities Ken Burns received early in his career. Jeannie and Jonathan Lavine have endowed the program with $1 million. It will run concurrently to the Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film.

Earlier this year, The Better Angels Society also announced the six winners of The Next Generation Angels Awards, an award recognizing middle and high school students for excellence in historical documentary filmmaking. Information about the winners and their films can be found at: https://www.thebetterangelssociety.org/we-support/next-generation/

About Ken Burns
Ken Burns has been making documentary films for over 40 years.  Since the Academy Award nominated “Brooklyn Bridgein 1981, Burns has gone on to direct and produce some of the most acclaimed historical documentaries ever made, including “The Civil War;” “Baseball;” “Jazz;” “The Statue of Liberty;” “Huey Long;” “Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery;” “Frank Lloyd Wright;” “Mark Twain;” “Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson;” “The War;” “The National Parks:  America’s Best Idea;” “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History;” “Jackie Robinson;” “Defying the Nazis: The Sharps’ War;” “The Vietnam War;” “The Mayo Clinic: Faith –  Hope – Science;” and most recently “Country Music.” Burns’ films have been honored with dozens of major awards, including 16 Emmy Awards, two Grammy Awards and two Oscar nominations; and in September of 2008, at the News and Documentary Emmy Awards, Ken was honored by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

About The Better Angels Society
The Better Angels Society is a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating Americans about their history through documentary film. Their mission is to educate, engage and provoke thoughtful discussion among people of every political persuasion and ideology. They work to ensure historically significant films are completed, broadcast, promoted, and shared in ways that reach and inform as many people as possible through robust educational and civic outreach. The Society is currently raising funds for films in production and planned over the next 10 years. The Better Angels Society is also working to ensure that the next generation of documentary filmmakers, inspired by Ken Burns and his team, receive the education, mentoring, training and support they need to continue his legacy.

About The Crimson Lion/Lavine Family Foundation
Jeannie and Jonathan Lavine established the Crimson Lion/Lavine Family Foundation to focus a significant portion of their philanthropic efforts toward leveling the playing field for individuals and families. The Foundation works to address pressing social challenges in the areas of education, community and public service, health and welfare, discrimination and poverty. The Foundation supports the multi-disciplinary efforts of organizations that serve to strengthen society through research, innovation, public policy, direct service and advocacy.

About the Library of Congress
The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library, offering access to the creative record of the United States — and extensive materials from around the world — both on-site and online. It is the main research arm of the U.S. Congress and the home of the U.S. Copyright Office.  Explore collections, reference services and other programs and plan a visit at loc.gov; access the official site for U.S. federal legislative information at congress.gov; and register creative works of authorship at copyright.gov.


PR 20-068
ISSN 0731-3527