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 acting on issues of import. 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 key component of continuing Ken’s legacy is to engage and empower the next generation of documentary filmmakers. The Better Angels Society is committed to paving the way for the filmmakers of tomorrow and honoring the legacy of Ken Burns.


A National Award for History Documentary Filmmaking

This national prize is designed to provide finishing funds for feature-length American history documentaries in the tradition of Ken Burns. Appropriate submissions are rough cut films focusing on American narratives. They use inclusive voices, reflect the highest standards of accuracy and original research, and are driven by compelling storytelling. The goal of this annual award is to support the development of quality American history documentary films so that more are seen by a wider audience.

Submissions are being reviewed by a jury and the winner is selected by the Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden in consultation with Ken Burns. The winner will be announced at the Award Ceremony September 30, 2020 at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.

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National History Day (NHD) Contest for Youth Filmmakers

The Better Angels Society is proud and excited to share with you the winning American history documentary films from the Next Generation Angels Award winners, who are middle and high school student filmmakers. They are featured on PBS’s website, Ken Burns UNUM, where Ken has a special message of praise you’ll want to watch. All under ten minutes, we trust you’ll find it as inspiring and encouraging as we do to see that a new generation of young historians are using the film medium to tell the American story with such excellence.
Through the support of The Better Angels Society, the Next Generation Angels Award winners and their chaperones receive an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, DC to attend the Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize award ceremony dinner, visit the Library of Congress’s National Audio-Visual Conservation Center, and have their winning films screened before a student audience at the first annual Student History Film Festival at the American Film Institute Theater.
The Next Generation Angels Awards is a new annual program of The Better Angels Society to support and promote student filmmakers involved in the National History Day organization. See the winning films below!

Senior Individual Documentary Winners

Allison Bushong, California
Triumph of Representation and Tragedy of Repercussion: Silent Gesture of 1968
As the first place senior division winner, Allison Bushong received the Anne Harrington Award, named for the late longtime friend and colleague of Ken Burns.
Taylor Barton, Pennsylvania
Dam! Better Call Clara!
Melinda Chen, New Jersey
From Miracle to Mishap: The Cutter Incident and its Impact on Modern Vaccine Safety Standards

Junior Individual Documentary Winners

Sophie Elliott, Singapore
Positives and Negatives: Shaping Native American Identity Through the Photography of Edward S. Curtis
Sydney Brown, Oklahoma
By Chance: The Story of the First Code Talkers
Josef Schuller, Missouri
The Bridge over Funchilin Pass: The Only Option for Retreat
Learn More