Docs

“Gradually, Then Suddenly” wins Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize

The Better Angels Society has named Gradually, Then Suddenly: The Bankruptcy of Detroit as this year’s winner of the Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film. The film, directed by Sam ...
October 26, 2021

The Better Angels Society has named Gradually, Then Suddenly: The Bankruptcy of Detroit as this year’s winner of the Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film.

The film, directed by Sam Katz and James McGovern, explores Detroit’s decline, leading to the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history in 2013. The film then stays with the city’s journey after this disaster.

The winning filmmakers will receive a finishing grant of US$200,000.

The Better Angels Society is a non-profit group dedicated to exploring American history through documentary film.

The competition’s runner-up is Free Chol Soo Lee, directed by Julie Ha and Eugene Yi. The documentary is about a Korean immigrant wrongly convicted of murder in 1973. These filmmakers will receive a $50,000 finishing grant.

“Each of the films we recognize today is an extraordinary work of art,” said Ken Burns in a statement. “We’re so honored to provide the filmmakers with grants to help finish the films and share them with the public. I have long believed that our ability to engage around historical topics will help us tackle some of the challenges we are dealing with today.”

Four other finalists will each receive $25,000 grants. The other finalists were Bonnie Blue: James Cotton’s Life in the Blues, directed by Bestor Cram; Double Exposure (w/t), directed by Phil Bertelsen; Exposing Muybridge, directed by Marc Shaffer; and The Five Demands directed by Greta Schiller.

An internal committee of filmmakers from Florentine Films, and staff from the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center which is the Library’s state-of-the-art moving image and recorded sound preservation facility, reviewed the competition’s submissions.

A national jury then narrowed down the six finalists to the top two submissions. The jury included Edward Ayers of the University of Richmond, Andrew Delbanco of Columbia University, filmmaker Sam Pollard, filmmaker Dawn Porter and filmmaker Sally Rosenthal. The Librarian of Congress, Dr. Carla Hayden, and Ken Burns then selected the winning film.

Last year’s award went to Stefan Forbes’s Hold Your Fire, about the untold story behind the longest hostage siege in New York Police Department history. The film premiered at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival last month.

This year’s winners will be officially announced on Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET in a virtual event on the Better Angels Society website featuring Hayden and Burns, along with a discussion about archives, history and storytelling.

The society also announced that past winners of this award, along with winners of the Next Generation Angels Awards for middle and high school students, will be available for streaming as part of a film showcase from Oct. 23 to 27 on the Library of Congress website.

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