2023 Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film Opens for Submissions!

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

$1.45 Million Awarded Through Prize Since 2019

Dr. Annette Gordon-Reed, Sam Pollard, Dawn Porter, Sally Rosenthal and Dr. Claudio Saunt Serve on This Year’s Jury

Washington, DC – February 15, 2023 – The Better Angels Society, the Library of Congress, and the Crimson Lion/Lavine Family Foundation today announced the open call for entries for the fifth 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 film 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 award to help with the final production and distribution of the film. In addition, one runner-up receives $50,000, and four finalists each receive $25,000. The funds are to be used for finishing, marketing, distribution, and outreach.

“I have long believed that our history is the richest, deepest well for dramatic and interesting stories,” said Ken Burns. “I could not be prouder of the work we’ve done, thanks to the support of Jeannie and Jonathan Lavine, and with the support of the Library of Congress and The Better Angels Society, to help filmmakers dig deeper into our past.  We’re very excited to launch the 2023 award and encourage everyone to submit their works for consideration.”

“We at the Library of Congress are thrilled to help launch and support these emerging documentarians and their important projects,” said Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden. “We learn so much from their work – they preserve and uncover overlooked episodes in our history, enriching our national narrative and chronicling the stories of everyday Americans in extraordinary circumstances.”

Through our support for Ken Burns’s work and for this Prize, we’ve witnessed first-hand how powerful a great American history documentary can be in sparking a national conversation,” said Jeannie and Jonathan Lavine, who provided the funding to The Better Angels Society to endow this award through the Crimson Lion/Lavine Family Foundation. “Film has the unique potential to bring different points of view and stories to diverse audiences, asking them – and all of us – how we can use the lessons of the past to address the challenges we face today. We are honored to work with Ken, The Better Angels Society, and the Library of Congress to support filmmakers sharing these stories.” 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, the award was expanded to include The Better Angels Lavine Fellowship. Fellows are selected from the Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film submissions based on the quality of the stories and the potential impact that additional resources could have in helping these films reach a wide audience.

Since 2019, when the award started, more than $1.45 million has been distributed among filmmakers. Winning films have included FLANNERY (Directed by Elizabeth Coffman and Mark Bosco, S.J.); HOLD YOUR FIRE (Directed by Steven Forbes); GRADUALLY, THEN SUDDENLY: THE BANKRUPTCY OF DETROIT (Directed by Sam Katz and James McGovern); BELLA! (Directed by Jeff L. Lieberman); and PHILLY ON FIRE (Directed by Ross Hockrow and Tommy Walker).  These – and other recognized films – have gone on to have theatrical releases, to be included and recognized at major festivals, and to air on PBS and other platforms. 

In 2023, a total of 14 historical documentary films supported by The Better Angels Society will air and stream on PBS, including THE LIE DETECTOR (Written and directed by Rob Rapley), ZORA NEALE HURSTON: CLAIMING A SPACE (Directed by Tracy Heather Strain), and 2021 Prize Finalist THE PICTURE TAKER (Directed by Phil Bertelsen) which all premiered in January.

“We recognize how challenging it is for documentary filmmakers to find the funding they need to bring American history to life using archival materials, compelling narratives, and interviews. The Lavines had faith in the idea and their generosity made it possible for The Better Angels Society to run this Prize. With Ken Burns and the Library of Congress’s incredible support, it has grown exponentially in only four years,” said Courtney Chapin, Executive Director of The Better Angels. 

To be eligible for the award, films must be submitted by May 15, 2023 and meet several criteria, most notably films must be late-stage documentaries with a running time of 50 minutes or longer focused on American history. For more information about the submission guidelines, visit www.thebetterangelssociety.org.  

The 2023 Jurors are Dr. Annette Gordon-Reed, Sam Pollard, Dawn Porter, Sally Rosenthal, and Dr. Claudio Saunt.

The 2023 Internal Review Committee will be chaired by filmmaker Lynn Novick and will include Geoff Ward, Salimah El-Amin, Adrienne Cannon, Alan Gevinson, and Greg Lukow. 

The Prize is also supported by an esteemed Honorary Committee 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.