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Program Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film

Award Details

The Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film is a $200,000 cash award presented annually to an independent filmmaker for post-production and finishing costs, including outreach and marketing, associated with an original, feature-length U.S. historical documentary in the tradition of Ken Burns.

A $50,000 cash prize is awarded to the runner-up and $25,000 is awarded to 3-4 finalists. Films must reflect the highest standards of historical research, balance, accuracy, and dramatic storytelling.

These funds are sorely needed by these filmmakers so that they can bring their films to a wider audience.


Interested filmmakers are invited to apply External link for the award. To be eligible for the award, films must meet the following criteria:

  • The project must be a late stage documentary film with a running time of 60 minutes or more.
  • The subject matter of the film must be American history.
  • The applicant must have previously produced or directed at least one long-form documentary for broadcast or online distribution.
  • The applicant must submit 20 minutes of a rough or fine cut AND a script of a full-length rough or fine cut at time of submission of application. (Note: Upon request, applicant will need to be able to provide a full-length rough or fine cut for review.)
  • Industrial, promotional, branded content or instructional films are not eligible.


This is an annual prize that accepts late stage film submissions between late February and early June. The semi-finalists are chosen through a careful, many-tiered process that spans more than half a year.

All submissions meeting the eligibility requirement are carefully reviewed and considered, with the finalists selected by a national jury comprised of leading documentary filmmakers and historians.  The winner is selected by the Librarian of Congress, Dr. Carla Hayden, in consultation with Ken Burns.

Next Generation Angels Award for Film

The Next Generation Angels Awards are an annual prize sponsored by The Better Angels Society in coordination with National History Day. The award is presented to selected middle and high school student documentary filmmakers to recognize excellence in ideologically balanced, well-researched history filmmaking in the model of Ken Burns. Each year, The Better Angels Society celebrates the student winners who are recognized as part of the Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Award for Film.

Find out more about the National History Day documentary contest External link for student filmmakers and find your affiliate External link for contact info, contest dates, and resources.

Student History Documentary Film Festival

At the Student History Documentary Film Festival, the Next Generation Angels Award winners are given the opportunity to present their prize-winning films in front of a national audience of students and educators from across the country. Each film screening is followed by a Q&A session moderated by Mike Mashon, Head of the Moving Image Section at the Packard Campus of the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center of the Library of Congress.

This event gives educators an opportunity to let their students learn first-hand how other students made high-quality historical documentaries and how documentary filmmaking can be a fun, engaging and active learning tool to enrich their understanding of American history. Students get the chance to ask questions of the prizewinners to understand their interests in documentary filmmaking and their creative process, ensuring that everyone participating gets a deeper appreciation of how important this art form is to education.

“Students Teach the Teachers” Research Orientation and Copyright Ceremony

At this event, the Next Generation Angels Award winners are presented with official copyrights for their prize-winning films by George Thuronyi, the Deputy Director of Public Information and Education at the U.S. Copyright Office of the Library of Congress. This cements these students’ status as burgeoning filmmakers by ensuring that their films will be accessible for decades to come, as well as ensuring their own place in history in our nation’s premier historical archive.

This event, open to a public audience of students and educators, offers teachers and students an opportunity to flip the teacher/student paradigm with the students leading the panel, discussing their research process and answering questions before an online audience of social studies and history teachers. Designed to be yet another empowering opportunity for these students, they offer their own anecdotal commentary in order to teach the educators how to guide their students effectively to learn research skills. Lee Ann Potter, Chief of Professional Learning & Outreach Initiatives at the Library of Congress also explains how students in historical documentary filmmaking can use the Library’s digital archives.

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