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.




Directed by Ross Hockrow, 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. 61 homes were destroyed, 250 people became homeless. How could this have happened?




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.



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 Still



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 Still



Directed by Kip Andersen and Chris O’Connell

Cannabis Buyers Club tells the story of Dennis Peron, a Vietnam vet who returned from war to become San Francisco’s biggest pot dealer. After losing his lover to AIDS, Peron launched the first public cannabis dispensary in the nation, uniting a community and leading the fight to legalize medical marijuana.

2022 Prize Jury

Dr. Carla Hayden – CHAIR

Dr. Annette Gordon-Reed

Sam Pollard

Dawn Porter

Sally Rosenthal

Dr. Claudio Saunt

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.

Richard Blanco

Patricia Cardoso

Ron Chernow

Christopher John Farley

Claudrena Harold

Patricia de Stacy Harrison

Michiko Kakutani

Paula Kerger

Wynton Marsalis

Soledad O’Brien

Sharon Rockefeller

Luis Antonio Ubiñas

Past Winners and Finalists