The Better Angels Society Announces 2023 Next Generation Angels Award Winners, Recognizing The Best In Student Filmmaking

Awards honor six short documentaries about history made by middle and high school students, which will be showcased at the 5th Annual Student History Film Festival on November 30 in Philadelphia, PA 

Washington, D.C. November 16, 2023 — The Better Angels Society, the pre-eminent national organization supporting excellence in American history documentaries to advance education and civic engagement, is pleased to announce the 2023 Next Generation Angels Award winners. The annual awards – a program of The Better Angels Society in coordination with National History Day®(NHD) – are presented to six middle and high school documentary filmmakers, recognizing excellence in well-researched history filmmaking in the model of renowned documentarian Ken Burns. This year, the winning films, which focused on the theme of frontiers in history, will be shown at the 5th Annual Student History Film Festival – in partnership with the Philadelphia Film Society – on Thursday, November 30, at the Philadelphia Film Center. Schools all over the Philadelphia area will be invited. 

Now in its fifth year, The Next Generation Angels Awards celebrates the six student winners with a series of events designed to enhance their knowledge and skills, including a mentorship session with Ken Burns and the 2023 Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film finalists. Additionally, all winning student films receive a copyright and will exist in perpetuity in the Library of Congress. The Next Generation Angels Awards aim to continue Ken’s legacy by engaging and empowering the next generation of documentary filmmakers. 

Also with the support of The Better Angels Society, the Philadelphia Film Society will conduct documentary filmmaking residencies in three Philadelphia schools. Over the course of 10 in-class lessons, students will create history documentary films that will be showcased at the Philadelphia Film Center in February 2024. Students will also be able to enter their documentaries into the local competition of National History Day in March 2024 with the opportunity to advance to the state and national competitions. 

“The Next Generation Angels Awards are building the next generation of documentarians to bring our history to life. As they learn the rigorous process used by filmmakers like Ken Burns, these students are able to tell the stories of our shared past that are meaningful to them,” said Katherine Malone-France, President and CEO of The Better Angels Society. “This year’s winning films are extraordinary and they vividly demonstrate the power of historical documentary filmmaking to explore our history in new and relevant ways. We are proud to celebrate this year’s winners for their thorough research, visual artistry, and creativity in illuminating these important stories.” 

Educational materials created with the guidance and expertise of the Philadelphia Film Society have also been made available on The Better Angels Society website for students and teachers interested in learning how to make historical documentaries. The curriculum provides insight into the documentary-making process, highlighting everything from concept development to archival research, and an understanding of the artistic process inherent in filmmaking. 




Elayna Weintz, Collierville, TN 

Listen, World: How Elsie Robinson Changed American Newspapers 

Starting in 1919, Elsie Robinson changed the American newspaper business by becoming America’s most-read female journalist. Robinson was a champion for women in the workplace after she was hired by William Randolph Hearst at a time when the newspaper business was completely male-dominated. She wrote over 9,000 works in 40 years, and her nationally syndicated column, Listen, World! was read by more than 20 million people. Robinson used her position to continuously examine and challenge the status quo, particularly regarding women’s perceived roles in society and the fight for equal rights for all races and genders. 


Jay Patel, Jericho, NY 

Pearl Kendrick, The Pioneering Researcher Who Ended a Deadly Plague Bacteriologist Pearl Kendrick, along with Grace Eldering, created the first successful whooping cough (pertussis) vaccine, resulting in tens of millions of lives saved. Kendrick broke through new frontiers in disease prevention–vastly increasing the U.S. life expectancy for children–all on a threadbare budget. The development of the pertussis vaccine paved the way for future generations of vaccines and inspired future generations of women to pursue careers in the medical field. 


Maia Lim Laurie, Singapore

The Papunya Tula Art Movement: Crossing the Frontier from Ephemeral Indigenous Australian Art to Cultural Preservation 

The Papunya Tula Art Movement is the most influential movement in the development of Indigenous Australian art. Although they’ve existed for millennia, these detailed paintings of Indigenous Australian Dreamings only appeared on permanent surfaces in the early 1970s in a remote, indigenous community called Papunya. Before then, Indigenous art had never been permanently preserved in any significant way, only imprinted on natural surfaces such as sand and human bodies. This film focuses on this shift in the medium–a historic moment when Indigenous Australian artists adapted to the changing world and preserved their cultural stories on canvas. Against the immense forces of colonization and assimilation, the artists preserved their people, their land, and their culture through art, which continues to impact the lives and civil rights of Indigenous Australians today. The Movement’s artists revitalized the cultural significance of Indigenous Australians, establishing a critical frontier by creating an entirely new art genre and preserving their culture for generations to come. 



Abigail Giroux, Baltimore, MD 

Wade in the Water: How African Americans Got Back Into the Pool 

The battle against segregation in the U.S. was long and frequently violent. Of all the barriers to fall, segregated recreation was among the very last. Beginning in the 1920s, African Americans were driven from pools, beaches, lakes, and rivers so comprehensively that swimming became a 

social and legal barrier across the country, with swimming in the North as segregated as in the South. African Americans eventually secured the right to equal swimming access, but the legacy of segregated swimming continues to haunt American society. Decades of organized resistance and litigation, combined with changed post-war attitudes nationally, helped African Americans close the gap in recreational swimming. Today, the nation is investing once again in public swimming access, education, and safety—an effort to heal itself from the wounds inflicted by swimming exclusion. 


Shea McGrath, San Diego, CA 

Glen Canyon: Frontiers Opened, Paradise Flooded 

The Glen Canyon Dam, located on the Colorado River in northern Arizona, represents three frontiers: new techniques in 20th-century water management, the beginning of a new environmental movement, and finally, the unknown frontier of severe drought and climate change today. While Glen Canyon is just one section of the Colorado River, it represents the future of how our society interacts with the American Southwest environment and its most important resource: water.


Jelena Rose Armsworth, Knoxville, TN 

“Indian Magna Carta”: The Proclamation of 1763 and the Indigenous People’s Rights Frontier 

King George III issued the Royal Proclamation of 1763, also known as the Indian Magna Carta, to reduce racial conflict and improve relations with indigenous peoples by separating the colonies from the Western Frontier, which was reserved for Native Americans. The Proclamation is perhaps best known as an early cause of the American Revolution because it sparked anger among colonists who were prevented from moving westward. But what is less well known is how the Proclamation was even more crucial for Indigenous peoples. It marked the first time a global superpower recognized the land rights of Native Americans, providing the legal foundation for Indigenous rights in Canada. It set a precedent for future relationships with Indigenous people, and future treaties were based on the principle that Indigenous people were sovereign and had the right to live on their land. 

This year’s winning films were selected from 100 submissions to NHD’s individual documentary category, which is just one of 18 types of entries. NHD judges utilize a rubric to evaluate student entries on criteria such as historical significance, historical argument, and clarity of presentation. 

This year marks the 5th Annual Student History Film Festival, where the winning films will be screened before live audiences of students and teachers at the Philadelphia Film Center on November 30. The films are also available to watch online on The Better Angels Society website. 

Funding for The Next Generation Angels Awards is made possible by the generosity of John and Jessica Fullerton. 


The Better Angels Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to educating Americans about their history through documentary film. They are the pre-eminent 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. 


NHD is a non-profit organization based in College Park, Maryland, which seeks to improve the teaching and learning of history. NHD was established in 1974 and currently engages more than half a million students every year in conducting original research on historical topics of interest. 

Students present their research as a documentary, exhibit, paper, performance, or website. Projects compete first at the local and affiliate levels, where the top entries are invited to the National Contest at the University of Maryland, College Park. NHD is sponsored in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities, World Education Foundation, Patricia Behring Foundation, 400 Years of African American History Commission, the Bezos Family Foundation, History, Pritzker Military Foundation, The Better Angels Society, National Park Service, Dr. Scholl Foundation, History NET, and Skehan Communications. For more information, visit 


Philadelphia Film Society (PFS) creates opportunities for diverse communities to experience film through initiatives that inspire, educate, challenge, and entertain. A nonprofit organization that is the region’s foremost resource for film presentation and education, PFS is the producer of the Philadelphia Film Festival and creative force behind the Philadelphia Film Center, PFS Bourse, and PFS East, raising awareness of film as an important art form in Philadelphia, and serving as a member of the City’s vital arts and culture community. For more information, visit