Fifth Annual Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize For Film Awarded To “Drop Dead City – New York On The Brink In 1975”



Directors Michael Rohatyn and Peter Yost win a $200,000 prize

Runner-Up THE DISAPPEARANCE OF MISS SCOTT to receive a $50,000 award

Washington, DC – September 11, 2023 – The Better Angels Society, the Library of Congress, and the Crimson Lion/Lavine Family Foundation today announced the winner for the Fifth Annual Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film: DROP DEAD CITY – NEW YORK ON THE BRINK IN 1975, directed by Michael Rohatyn and Peter Yost. The filmmakers will be awarded a $200,000 cash prize intended for finishing funds like outreach and marketing. 

DROP DEAD CITY – NEW YORK ON THE BRINK IN 1975 examines New York City’s 1975 fiscal crisis – an extraordinary, often overlooked episode in urban American history – which brought the city to the edge of bankruptcy.

The runner-up, THE DISAPPEARANCE OF MISS SCOTT, directed by Nicole London, tells the story of the jazz darling, Hollywood star, and civil rights pioneer Hazel Scott, who went into exile after being wrongfully accused of Communist sympathies. London will receive a $50,000 award.

Four finalists will each receive a $25,000 award.

The prize, 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.

“We are thrilled to announce this year’s winner, DROP DEAD CITY, and runner-up, THE DISAPPEARANCE OF MISS SCOTT. Both of these important films examine two major American crises of the 20th century – helping preserve their lessons for posterity,” said Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden. “The Library of Congress is committed to sharing the rich stories of this nation. This film prize allows us to continue to engage with filmmakers and inspire them to use libraries as a major resource for their important work.”

“It’s hard to imagine in this age of urban strength that New York City was once at the brink of bankruptcy,” said Ken Burns. “DROP DEAD CITY takes us back to a time not long ago but far removed from our collective sense of the strength of cities. It is a poignant reminder of how history changes and provides a detailed and nuanced look at a fascinating time in our past. The quality of the winning films and the diversity of topics showcased in the finalist films reinforce the importance of the support that this film prize provides. We are so fortunate to do this, now five years on, thanks to the extraordinary generosity of Jeannie and Jonathan Lavine through the Crimson Lion/Lavine Family Foundation.”

“The mission of this Prize feels vital – now more than ever,” said Jeannie and Jonathan Lavine. “Now, as we approach our fifth prize ceremony, we look forward to celebrating the winning films and the remarkable stories they bring to life that can inform both our past and our present moment.”

“These films are powerful works of art and history that inspire meaningful conversations about our intertwined stories and our civic values,” said Katherine Malone-France, President and CEO of The Better Angels Society. “We are honored to support the completion of these films in order to ensure that they reach national audiences, and we are thrilled to welcome these talented documentary filmmakers to our Better Angels community.”

An Internal Review Committee composed of filmmakers from Florentine Films and expert staff from the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center, the Library of Congress’ state-of-the-art moving image and recorded sound preservation facility, selected the top six submissions. These six finalists were then narrowed down to the top two submissions by the National Jury, consisting of: Dr. Annette Gordon-Reed, Harvard University Professor; Dawn Porter, filmmaker; Sally Rosenthal, filmmaker; and Dr. Claudio Saunt, University of Georgia professor.

Dr. Hayden, in consultation with Ken Burns, selected the winning film. The winner will be formally announced on Tuesday, September 26, in a ceremony at the Library of Congress. All finalist films will be honored at the ceremony.

Since 2019, more than $1.6 million has been distributed among filmmakers through this prize. Winning films have included FLANNERY (Directed by Elizabeth Coffman and Mark Bosco, S.J.); HOLD YOUR FIRE (Directed by Stefan Forbes); GRADUALLY, THEN SUDDENLY: THE BANKRUPTCY OF DETROIT (Directed by Sam Katz and James McGovern); BELLA! THIS WOMAN’S PLACE IS IN THE HOUSE (Directed by Jeff L. Lieberman); and PHILLY ON FIRE (Directed by Ross Hockrow and Tommy Walker). These – and other highly commended films – have gone on to have theatrical releases, be included and recognized at major festivals, and air on PBS and other platforms.

To learn more about the Fifth Annual Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film, visit



Directed by Michael Rohatyn and Peter Yost

DROP DEAD CITY – NEW YORK ON THE BRINK IN 1975 documents the NYC Fiscal Crisis of 1975, an extraordinary, overlooked episode in urban American history that saw an already-crumbling city of 8 million people brought to the edge of bankruptcy and social chaos by a perfect storm of debt, greed, ambitious social policy, and poor governance.  


Directed by Nicole London

THE DISAPPEARANCE OF MISS SCOTT tells the story of the incredible Hazel Scott, jazz darling, Hollywood star, and civil rights pioneer years before the formal civil rights movement began. The first African American with a network TV show. Wrongfully accused of Communist sympathies, her career shattered. Soon after, she was in exile, erased.



Produced by Douglas Blackmon and Sam Pollard

THE HARVEST is a deeply personal documentary depicting one southern town’s painful struggle to integrate its public schools at the height of the civil rights movement and the manifold repercussions of those events continuing to the present day. The film is grounded in journalistic inquiry and historical scholarship.


Directed by Barak Goodman

THE INCOMPARABLE MR. BUCKLEY is a biography of one of the 20th Century’s most charismatic, controversial and influential political figures, William F. Buckley, Jr. Featuring a large cast of contemporaries, acolytes, and critics, the film reveals how WFB practically invented the modern conservative movement.


Directed by Sam Pollard and Ben Shapiro

MAX ROACH: THE DRUM ALSO WALTZES explores the life and music of the legendary drummer, bandleader, and social activist – a remarkable series of creative peaks, personal struggles, and reinventions – from Jim Crow to the Civil Rights years, from the heady days of post-war modern jazz to hip hop and beyond.


Directed by Jason Cohn

MODERNISM INC. tells the story of Eliot Noyes, the influential architect of

comprehensive corporate design programs in the mid-20th Century. Noyes is most noted for his work at IBM, where he transmitted Modernist thinking, set the standards for corporate design, and played a critical role in the rise of computers. 


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 WAR; THE NATIONAL PARKS: AMERICA’S BEST IDEA; THE ROOSEVELTS: AN INTIMATE HISTORY; JACKIE ROBINSON; THE VIETNAM WAR; COUNTRY MUSIC; BENJAMIN FRANKLIN; THE U.S. AND THE HOLOCAUST. Future film projects include THE AMERICAN BUFFALO, LEONARDO DA VINCI, THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION, EMANCIPATION TO EXODUS, and LBJ & THE GREAT SOCIETY, among others. Ken’s films have been honored with dozens of major awards, including 16 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. They are the preeminent organization supporting American history documentary filmmakers, advancing the use of their body of work to promote civic engagement and educate generations of students and lifelong learners. The Society works to ensure historically significant films by an array of emerging and established filmmakers are completed, broadcast, promoted, and shared in ways that reach and inform as many people as possible through robust educational and civic outreach. They are currently raising funds for the films of Ken Burns and his team, as well as their Better Angel Stories initiative, which provides funding for films on public media through partnerships with American Experience (GBH), American Masters (WNET), and WETA. In support of their mission, The Better Angels Society also administers the annual Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film and sponsors The Next Generation Angels Awards in partnership with National History Day®.

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 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, access the official site for U.S. federal legislative information at, and register creative works of authorship at