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.
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.
2022 Prize Winners
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.
VIRGIL THOMSON: CREATING THE AMERICAN SOUND
Directed by John Paulson
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.
IMAGINING THE INDIAN: THE FIGHT AGAINST NATIVE AMERICAN MASCOTING
Directed by Aviva Kempner and Ben West
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 70’s for demanding equality — and the never-told-before tale of his unlikely and heartbreaking journey towards becoming a hoops legend.
CANNABIS BUYERS CLUB
Directed by Kip Andersen and Chris O’Connell
2022 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 2022 Honorary Committee represent a varied cross-section of our nation’s culture, including the written word, music, film, historiography, and news media.
Past Winners and Finalists
Congratulations to the 2021 Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film Winner: Gradually, then Suddenly: The Bankruptcy of Detroit, Directed by Sam Katz and James McGovern.
BONNIE BLUE: JAMES COTTON’S LIFE IN THE BLUES
Directed by Bestor Cram
Born in 1935 on Bonnie Blue plantation in Tunica, Mississippi, apprenticing with Sonny Boy Williamson II and Howlin’ Wolf, and schooled by Muddy Waters, James ‘Super Harp’ Cotton became a mentor to harp players around the globe as he brought the delta blues into mainstream rock ‘n roll. Cotton’s music made history; his musical voice was unique, and the blues were never the same.
HOLD YOUR FIRE
Directed by Stefan Forbes
In 1973, four young men stealing guns for self-defense were tragically mistaken by the NYPD for violent revolutionaries. A gunfight ensued and a police officer was killed. Despite the NYPD’s policy of deadly force, Dr. Harvey Schlossberg managed to resolve the conflict peacefully and invent modern hostage negotiation.
Directed by Tasha Van Zandt
After Antarctica follows polar explorer Will Steger’s journey as an eyewitness to the changes in the polar regions of our planet. Thirty years after his expedition across Earth’s coldest continent, Steger is not only known for being the first in history to complete this feat – he is also the last.
BEETHOVEN IN BEIJING
Jennifer Lin & Sharon Mullally
Dispatched by President Nixon in 1973 to help open the “bamboo curtain” separating the Chinese and American people, the iconic Philadelphia Orchestra now turns to its past as a cultural ambassador to strengthen its precarious future at home.
PUNCH 9 FOR HAROLD WASHINGTON
Directed by Joe Winston
“Punch 9 for Harold Washington” will tell a national audience, for the first time, the story of how Washington became Chicago’s first African-American mayor, opened up government to everyone, and paved the way for future political leaders, including Barack Obama.