Documentary films on issues of import to our Republic allow us to have an informed-and-civil conversation about our history. The emotional connection to film inspires reading, critical thinking, and action. 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.

A National Award for History Documentary Filmmaking

This annual national prize, now in its 2nd 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.

2019 Prize Winners


A gothic story fueled by televangelists and girls with wooden legs, “Flannery” covers the biography of writer Flannery O’Connor with archival footage and creative motion graphics. A devout Catholic who walked with crutches, O’Connor wrote about the enduring prejudices of the post-war south. Mystery and manners abound in this work. Directed by Elizabeth Coffman and Mark Bosco, S.J.


MAE WEST: DIRTY BLONDE is a feature-length historical documentary film developed by Peeled Grape Productions LLC for PBS’ American Masters. The film explores the extraordinary career and legacy of this complex cultural figure, who left an indelible imprint on American entertainment as a writer, performer, and agitator for social change. Directed by Sally Rosenthal & Julia Marchesi.


Before Oprah, before Arsenio, there was Mr. SOUL! An in-depth look at the late 1960s WNET public television series SOUL! and its producer Ellis Haizlip, who provided expanded images of African Americans on television, shifting the gaze from inner-city poverty and violence to the vibrancy of the Black Arts Movement. Directed by Melissa Haizlip & Sam Pollard.


This is the first major documentary on one of America’s greatest writers, Saul Bellow.  The film examines Bellow’s influence on American literature, explores Bellow as a public figure, and looks at how he dealt with key issues of his time, including race, gender, and the Jewish and immigrant experience. Directed by Asaf Galay.


The First Angry Man tells the story of political outsider Howard Jarvis and the California property tax revolt he led during Governor Jerry Brown’s first term in 1978. Historians credit Jarvis’ campaign for Proposition 13 with triggering a national anti-tax, anti-government movement with immeasurable and enduring consequences. Directed by Jason Cohn & Camille Servan-Schreiber.


This historical documentary tells the story of a grassroots national movement of women clerical workers who endured low pay, disrespect and sexual harassment. By the early 1970s, they had had enough. They gathered their courage, rose up against their bosses and started fighting for a better life. Directed by Steven Bognar & Julia Reichert.

2020 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 2020 Honorary Committee represent a varied cross-section of our nation’s culture, including the written word, music, film, historiography, and news media.


Christiane Amanpour is a British-Iranian journalist and television host. Amanpour is the Chief International Anchor for CNN and host of CNN International’s nightly interview program Amanpour. She is also the host of Amanpour & Company on PBS.


C.J. Farley is a Jamaican-born American journalist, columnist, and author. He is a graduate of Harvard University, and former editor of the Harvard Lampoon. Farley worked as a senior editor for the Wall Street Journal and Time magazine and is currently an executive editor at Audible.


Drew Gilpin Faust is an American historian and was the 28th President of Harvard University, the first woman to serve in that role. Faust is the former dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study; she is Harvard’s first president since 1672 without an undergraduate or graduate degree from Harvard and the first to have been raised in the South.


Sharon Rockefeller has served the public broadcasting community for more than 40 years as a leader and policymaker. She has been president and CEO of WETA, Washington, D.C.’s flagship public television and radio stations, since 1989. She continues to guide WETA to outstanding accomplishments in broadcasting and production.


Wynton Marsalis is an American virtuoso trumpeter, composer, teacher, and artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center. He has promoted classical and jazz music, often to young audiences. Marsalis has been awarded nine Grammy Awards and his Blood on the Fields was the first jazz composition to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music.


Paula Kerger is the president and chief executive officer of PBS, the nation’s largest non-commercial media organization with nearly 350 member stations throughout the country. Having joined PBS in March 2006, Kerger is the longest-serving president and CEO in PBS history.


Amy Gutmann is the eighth president of the University of Pennsylvania, an award-winning political theorist, the author of 16 books, and a university professor.


Luis Antonio Ubiñas is an American investor, businessman and nonprofit advisor. He served as the president of the Ford Foundation from 2008 through 2013. Prior to joining the Ford Foundation, he had an 18-year career as a consultant at McKinsey & Company.


George Will is an American political commentator. George Will writes regular columns for The Washington Post and provides commentary for NBC News and MSNBC. In 1986, The Wall Street Journal called him “perhaps the most powerful journalist in America,” in a league with Walter Lippmann.


American broadcast journalist and executive producer. Since 2016, O’Brien has been the host for Matter of Fact with Soledad O’Brien, a nationally syndicated weekly talk show produced by Hearst Television. She is chairwoman of Starfish Media Group, a multi-platform media production company and distributor that she founded in 2013.


Patricia Cardoso is a Colombian-American director, writer, and producer, who has directed a wide range of acclaimed films and episodes for the screen. She was the first Latinx woman to receive a Sundance Audience Award and a Student Academy Award®.


Michiko Kakutani is an American literary critic and former chief book critic for The New York Times. Her awards include a Pulitzer Prize for Criticism. Kakutani initially worked as a reporter for The Washington Post, and then from 1977 to 1979 for Time magazine. In 1979, she joined The New York Times as a reporter.