February 25, 2021 Library and Better Angels Society Open Submissions for Annual Prize for Film

Annual Award, Supported by The Better Angels Society and The Crimson Lion/Lavine Family Foundation, Recognizes Exemplary Accomplishment in Historical Documentaries

Press Contact: Bill Ryan, wryan@loc.gov | Joe DePlasco, joe_deplasco@dkcnews.com
Website: Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film

The Library of Congress, The Better Angels Society and the Crimson Lion/Lavine Family Foundation today announced that entries are being accepted for the third annual Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film, which recognizes exemplary accomplishment in historical documentaries.

The award, which was established in 2019, recognizes one late-stage documentary that uses original research and compelling narrative to tell stories that bring American history to life using archival materials. The prize is presented each fall at a ceremony with members of Congress at the Library of Congress, and the winner receives a $200,000 finishing grant to help with the final production and distribution of the film. In addition, one runner-up will receive a grant of $50,000 and three to four finalists each receive $25,000. The funds are to be used for finishing, marketing, distribution and outreach.

Separately, The Better Angels Society and the Crimson Lion/Lavine Family Foundation announced last year that five additional filmmakers, selected for telling stories that focus on America’s diversity, will each receive The Better Angels/Lavine Fellowship, which provides support and mentorship as they work on their films. The Fellows are selected from the pool of applicants to the Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film who demonstrate significant potential.

The submission deadline for this year’s prize is June 1, 2021. More information about the Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film and The Better Angeles/Lavine Fellowship, along with requirements for submission, can be found at: www.thebetterangelssociety.org

In 2020, the winning film was Stefan Forbes’ “Hold Your Fire,” a documentary about the role of policing in our country told through the lens of a 1973 hostage situation in New York City. The prize’s inaugural winner, “Flannery,” directed by Elizabeth Coffman and Fr. Mark Bosco, explored the life and writings of Flannery O’Connor. A runner-up and four finalists were also recognized each year. Some of the honored films have gone on to be broadcast on PBS and WNET’s American Masters series.

“Understanding our history, in all of its complexity and from all perspectives and experiences, is critical to the health of our country and democracy,” said Ken Burns. “Documentary filmmaking has never been more important as we try to understand the past, but also explore new ways to tell stories that have been largely overlooked. We’re very appreciative that Jonathan and Jeannie Lavine, along with the Library of Congress and The Better Angels Society, recognizes that filmmakers can help all of us navigate some of the challenges we face today by sharing with us stories from the past.”

“Ensuring that America’s stories can be uncovered and told is at the heart of the Library of Congress’ mission,” said Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden. “We are thrilled to be part of this prize, and so grateful to Ken Burns, the Lavine Family Foundation and The Better Angels Society, for helping us identify and support the nation’s best new talent in documentary film. I have been so impressed and encouraged by the large number of wonderful submissions that we receive on topics ranging from social justice activism to the lives of great authors, from polar exploration to cultural exchange. Together they fill me with confidence that our great national story, as it continues to be told, is in good hands.”

“Telling the story of our country’s history is a great responsibility. Our history, like our discourse today, can be highly contested,” noted Jeannie and Jonathan Lavine, who provided the funding to The Better Angels Society to endow this award through the Crimson Lion/Lavine Family Foundation. “But it is a place where we can gather together to listen and learn and hopefully better understand the past but also the challenges of today. We are honored to be associated with this prize and inspired by the films and filmmakers who have been selected to date, along with the new class of fellows selected last year. We hope the prize continues to help the next generation of historical documentarians share stories of our country’s complex, fascinating past — just as Ken and the filmmakers at Florentine Films have done for decades.” Jeannie Lavine has served on a number of 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.

“In 2020, we doubled the number of submissions to the Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film from 2019,” said Courtney Chapin of The Better Angels Society. This year, we look forward to even more growth in the scale and variety of American stories submitted for review. More than ever, we are searching for storytellers who do not shy away from our country’s complicated past and seek to shed light on the vibrant diversity of the American story. We’re honored to partner with filmmakers, historians and others working to understand the connection between history and current events.”

The 2021 Jurors are: Edward Ayers (University of Richmond), Andrew Delbanco (Columbia University), and filmmakers Sam Pollard (“MLK/FBI”), Dawn Porter (“John Lewis: Good Trouble”), and Sally Rosenthal (“Mae West: Dirty Blonde”).

The 2021 Internal Review Committee will be chaired by Lynn Novick (“College Behind Bars”) and will be comprised of Florentine Films’ Geoffrey C. Ward and Salimah El-Amin as well as the Library of Congress' Gregory Lukow, Alan Gevinson and Adrienne Cannon.

The Prize is also supported by an esteemed honorary committee comprised of thought leaders drawn from all corners of the media and cultural landscape, united by a common interest in supporting work that highlights our country’s history through documentary film. The 2021 Honorary Committee will include Christiane Amanpour, Patricia Cardoso, Ron Chernow, CJ Farley, Drew Gilpin Faust, Amy Gutmann, Michiko Kakutani, Paula Kerger, Wynton Marsalis, Soledad O’Brien, Sharon Rockefeller, Luis Antonio Ubiñas and George Will.

Interested filmmakers are invited to apply for the award at www.thebetterangelssociety.org.

To be eligible for the award, films must meet the following criteria:

  1. The project must be a late-stage documentary film with a running time of 50 minutes or longer.
  2. The subject matter of the film must be American history.
  3. The applicant must have previously produced or directed at least one long-form documentary for broadcast or online distribution.
  4. The applicant must submit 20 minutes of a rough or fine cut AND a script of a full-length rough or fine cut at the time of submission of application. (Note: Upon request, the applicant will need to be able to provide a full-length rough or fine cut for review.)
  5. Industrial, promotional, branded content or instructional films are not eligible.

In addition to the Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film, The Better Angels Society partners with National History Day to award the Next Generation Angels Awards recognizing six individual documentary filmmakers in the junior and senior high school divisions. These include an award named in memory of Anne Harrington, a colleague who handled outreach and education for Burns’s films and passed away in 2018. Finalists are recognized at the National History Day National Contest held each June at the University of Maryland, College Park, and return for special programming to honor them and showcase their work in the fall. Winners are invited to attend the Library of Congress awards ceremony in Washington, D.C. More information about the award is also available at: www.thebetterangelssociety.org

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.

About Ken Burns
Ken Burns has been making documentary films for over 40 years. Since the Academy Award-nominated “Brooklyn Bridge” in 1981, Ken 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.”  Ken’s films have been honored with dozens of major awards, including 16 Emmy Awards, two Grammy Awards, and two Oscar nominations. At the 2008 News & Documentary Emmy Awards, Ken was honored by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

About The Better Angels Society
The Better Angels Society is a non-profit 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 ten 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, and 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.


PR 21-013
ISSN 0731-3527