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Latest News: Documentary Film Prize

Filmmaker Ken Burns

The Better Angels Society, the Library of Congress, and the Crimson Lion/Lavine Family Foundation today announced the Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film, an annual award to recognize exemplary accomplishment in historical documentaries.

The award, which will be presented each fall at a gala at the Library of Congress, will recognize a filmmaker whose documentary uses original research and compelling narrative to tell stories that touch on some aspect of American history. More information about the award and requirements for submission can be found at: thebetterangelssociety.org External. The winner will receive a $200,000 finishing grant to help with the final production of the film. The submission deadline for the inaugural prize is June 1.

“I’ve been very fortunate to spend my career focused on our country’s history,” said Ken Burns. “While each film is different, they all ask the same question about who we are as a people. History is of course fraught with complexity and is often divisive. But somehow by confronting this history together, and the many stories that make it up, we become closer. I’m honored and humbled to join the Library of Congress, The Better Angels and Jeannie and Jonathan Lavine and the Crimson Lion/Lavine Family Foundation to help other filmmakers working in this space share their stories. By supporting their work, and diverse stories and voices, I’m hopeful we can engage new generations of Americans in understanding our past.”

“Documentary film is one of the most engaging media for bringing our nation’s history to life,” said Carla Hayden, Librarian of Congress. “As Ken has demonstrated prolifically and beautifully through his work over the years, piecing together historic photographs, manuscripts, music, oral histories and other primary source materials into a narrative moving image can capture our hearts and minds like nothing else. The Library is a treasure trove of these materials, and I hope this new prize elevates awareness of the Library as an inspirational national resource among documentary filmmakers of the present and the future. We are honored to join The Better Angels, Ken and the Crimson Lion/Lavine Family Foundation to launch this award.”

“We believe an understanding of history is critical to a healthy and functioning democracy,” noted Jeannie and Jonathan Lavine.  “We are exceptionally proud of the support we have provided Ken and his team.  We are equally excited about building on this work and creating a new program in partnership with our colleagues at The Better Angels Society and the Library of Congress. This prize will recognize other filmmakers working in this space and the stories that they can share with the millions of Americans who have learned about America’s past from the extraordinary work of Ken Burns.”  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 and a Co-Chair of the Trustees of Columbia University.

Interested filmmakers are invited to apply for the award through the website at contest.thebetterangelssociety.org External. 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 60 minutes or more.
  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 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.)
  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 will partner with National History Day, to award the Next Generation Angels Awards recognizing six individual documentary filmmakers in the junior and senior divisions. These include an award named in memory of Anne Harrington, a colleague who handled outreach and education for Burns’s films who passed away in 2018. Finalists will be recognized at the National History Day National Contest held each June at the University of Maryland, College Park, and will return for special programming to honor them and showcase their work in the fall. Winners will be invited to attend the Library of Congress award gala in Washington, D.C. as well. More information about the award is available at thebetterangelssociety.org/we-support/next-generation/ External.

About Ken Burns Ken Burns has been making documentary films for over forty 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" and most recently "The Mayo Clinic:  Faith—Hope—Science." Ken’s films have been honored with dozens of major awards, including sixteen Emmy Awards, two Grammy Awards and two Oscar nominations; and in September of 2008, at the 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, 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.

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