2022 Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film Awarded to Two Films: BELLA! and PHILLY ON FIRE

Washington, DC – October 19, 2022 – The Better Angels Society, the Library of Congress, and the Crimson Lion/Lavine Family Foundation announced two winners for the fourth annual Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film: BELLA!, directed by Jeff L. Lieberman, and PHILLY ON FIRE, directed by Ross Hockrow and Tommy Walker. The filmmakers will each receive a $200,000 finishing grant to help with final production and distribution.

BELLA! tells the story of former United States Representative Bella Abzug, a feminist and civil rights advocate, taking on a Washington establishment resistant to change and sacrificing her own political ambitions for future generations of female leadership.

PHILLY ON FIRE chronicles the 1985 Philadelphia police bombing of a row house, which burned down an entire neighborhood, killing 11 people, including five children, destroying 61 homes and rendering 250 people homeless.

The award, which was established in 2019, recognizes late-stage documentaries that use original research and compelling narrative to tell stories that bring American history to life using archival materials. 

Four finalists will each receive a $25,000 finishing grant.

“I’m proud to be recognizing not just one, but two extraordinary documentaries this year,” said Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden. “One follows the career of a true trailblazer in Congress, “Battling” Bella Abzug, who came to Washington powered by her conviction and slogan that “this woman’s place is in the House — the House of Representatives.” The other documents a harrowing episode in 1985 when the Philadelphia police bombed a row house and killed 11 people. This project to preserve the memory of this shocking event will, I hope, help prevent others like it.

“With all the extraordinary films we received this year, choosing just one winner proved to be an impossible task,” said Ken Burns. “We’re honored to provide the filmmakers with funds to help finish their films and share them with the public. I have always believed that documentary films help illuminate the past, making it possible for us to see who we are as a nation more clearly while helping us navigate the future.”

“Our country’s history is not simple, and we must explore that complexity to better understand each other and our society,” said Jeannie and Jonathan Lavine, who provided the funding for the Prize for Film to The Better Angels Society through the Crimson Lion/Lavine Family Foundation. “The winning films are powerful stories that urge us to examine the past in new, compelling ways, and at the same time speak directly to the challenges of our present and future.” 

“Provoking thoughtful discussion and honoring our common history through documentary film is what The Better Angels Society is all about,” said Courtney Chapin, Executive Director of The Better Angels Society. “It’s our privilege to welcome these outstanding historical documentarians into our community, and we congratulate each winner and finalist for helping us build a national discourse on what defines us as Americans.

An internal committee consisting of filmmakers from Florentine Films, Burns’s documentary production company, 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 and narrowed down to the top two submissions by the Prize for Film Jury consisting of: DR. CARLA HAYDEN, the first woman and the first African American to lead the Library of Congress, who chaired the Jury; DR. ANNETTE GORDON-REED, Harvard University professor, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, and National Humanities Medal recipient; SAM POLLARD (MLK/FBI), award-winning filmmaker and longtime collaborator of director Spike Lee; DAWN PORTER (JOHN LEWIS: GOOD TROUBLE), an American documentary filmmaker and the founder of production company Trilogy Films; SALLY ROSENTHAL (MAE WEST: DIRTY BLONDE), documentary filmmaker and runner-up for the 2019 Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film; and DR. CLAUDIO SAUNT, University of Georgia professor and winner of the Bancroft Prize, the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award, the Ridenhour Book Prize, and finalist for the National Book Award. 

Dr. Hayden, in consultation with Ken Burns, selected the winning films. The winners will be announced on Tuesday, October 18, in a ceremony at the Library of Congress.


BELLA!, directed by Jeff L. Lieberman

In 1970, Bella Abzug entered Congress ready for a fight. With her trademark hat and Bronx swagger, the first elected feminist upended the Washington patriarchy, battling for women’s equality, civil rights, and LGBTQ+ protections. Despite Nixon and the FBI’s attempts to silence her, Bella persisted – revolutionizing the blueprint for America.

PHILLY ON FIRE, directed by Ross Hockrow and Tommy Walker

On May 13, 1985, the Philadelphia Police dropped a bomb on a row house, burning down an entire neighborhood. 11 people died, five of them children. Sixty-one homes were destroyed, 250 people became homeless. How could this have happened?


CANNABIS BUYERS CLUB, directed by Kip Andersen and Chris O’Connell

CANNABIS BUYERS CLUB tells the unknown story of the most important LGBTQ+ rights struggle of the 20th century. How a neglected group of people suffering the horrors of the AIDS pandemic in San Francisco were led by a gay Vietnam veteran/renegade pot dealer to legalize medical marijuana.


IMAGINING THE INDIAN: THE FIGHT AGAINST NATIVE AMERICAN MASCOTING aims to inform and educate about the use of Native American names, logos and mascots in sports and beyond, which has had damaging effects on the self-esteem of Native people. It is a comprehensive examination of the long standing movement against mascoting.

RAYMOND LEWIS: L.A. LEGEND, directed by Ryan Polomski (Dean Prator, Co-Director)

RAYMOND LEWIS: L.A. LEGEND tells the true story of the mythical basketball phenom from Watts, California — who many say was blackballed from the NBA in the early 1970s for demanding equality — and the never-told-before tale of his unlikely and heartbreaking journey towards becoming a hoops legend.


Dubbed “father of American music” by Aaron Copland, composer/critic Virgil Thomson (1896-1989) is largely unknown to the public. This biography, featuring new and archival music performances, establishes Thomson’s originality, versatility and influence not only as creator of the American classical sound but as an insightful critic of our cultural scene.

To learn more about the Fourth Annual Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film, visit www.thebetterangelssociety.org.