The 2023 Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film opened for submissions on February 15 and closed on May 15, 2023. Read on for more information on selection criteria and how to apply next year.

Does your film qualify?

1. The project must be a late-stage documentary film with a running time of 50 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. Industrial, promotional, branded content, or instructional films are not eligible.

If you have questions about the submission process, please direct them to

A National Award for History Documentary Filmmaking

Documentary films on issues of importance to our nation create space for us to have mutually informed conversations about our history. The documentary film medium is perhaps the most relevant and powerful means by which we can explore our history and ourselves. The lessons learned from our past inform and inspire our future.

Bringing this critical educational tool to as broad an American audience as possible is our goal.

This annual national prize, now in its fifth year, is designed to provide finishing funds, including outreach and marketing, for feature-length U.S. historical documentaries in the tradition of Ken Burns.

The establishment of the Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film reflects the critical role history documentary film plays today in educating Americans about the American story. The Prize is bestowed by Librarian Carla Hayden and filmmaker Ken Burns who will co-chair a national jury of esteemed scholars, filmmakers, and journalists. The Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film joins other awards bestowed by the Library of Congress including the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, the Prize for American Fiction, and the Kluge Prize for the Study of Humanity.

The Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film is made possible through a generous donation by Jeannie and Jonathan Lavine. The Crimson Lion/Lavine Family Foundation invests in philanthropic efforts directed at leveling the playing field for individuals and families. The Foundation supports organizations that strengthen society through education, research, innovation, public policy, direct service, and advocacy. As ever more Americans learn history watching historical documentary films, the Crimson Lion/Lavine Family Foundation makes possible this Library of Congress national prize with The Better Angels Society. The Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film will support the creation of exemplary films that live on as enduring educational assets for all Americans, enriching the democracy and informing our understanding of the American story.

The 2023 Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film Finalists are:

Click on each image for additional information and to watch a first-look trailer.


Directed by Peter Yost and Michael Rohatyn

DROP DEAD CITY 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 A. 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.

2023 Prize Jury

Dr. Carla Hayden – CHAIR

Dr. Annette Gordon-Reed

Dawn Porter

Sally Rosenthal

Dr. Claudio Saunt

2023 Honorary Committee

The Honorary Committee is a distinguished group 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. The members of the Honorary Committee each have large and unique spheres of influence that help spread the mission of the Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film, making them a vital part of the Prize community. The members of the 2023 Honorary Committee represent a varied cross-section of our nation’s culture, including the written word, music, film, historiography, and news media.

Richard Blanco

Patricia Cardoso

Dr. Rebecca Erbelding 

Christopher John Farley

Kahlil Greene

Dr. Claudrena Harold

Patricia de Stacy Harrison

Dr. Stephanie Jones-Rogers

Michiko Kakutani

Paula Kerger

Wynton Marsalis

Sharon Rockefeller

Luis Antonio Ubiñas

Ilyon Woo 

Past Winners and Finalists