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Ken Burns, Library of Congress to Present Documentary Award to ‘Flannery’

Documentarian Ken Burns is partnering with the Library of Congress and two philanthropic organizations to present a new award to “Flannery,” a documentary about Flannery O’Connor.

Filmmaker Elizabeth Coffman and Jesuit priest Mark Bosco will be presented the first Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film on Oct. 17 at the library. The award includes a $200,000 grant to finish the film.

“‘Flannery’ is an extraordinary documentary that allows us to follow the creative process of one of our country’s greatest writers,” Burns said. “It also provides us a glimpse into her life, including her Catholic faith, her unusual sensitivity to race as a Southern white woman, and her daily struggles with illness and the prospect and reality of an early mortality. The story is
beautifully told and captures the power of her southern birth and life. We’re hopeful that a new generation of readers will re-discover the writings of Flannery O’Connor because of this film.”

Burns told Variety that finishing funds are crucial for young documentarians — a scenario he faced four decades ago when he was attempting to complete his first project, “Brooklyn Bridge,” and had to figure out how to raise $50,000.

“I looked about 12 at the time,” he recalled. “One of things I did was adopt a very low-cost lifestyle in New Hampshire, where I live to this day.”

A total of 80 films were submitted for consideration earlier this year. Ten movies were then reviewed by an internal committee consisting of filmmakers from Florentine Films and staff from the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center. The six finalists were reviewed by a jury of experts and the winner was selected by the Librarian of Congress and Carla Hayden, in consultation with Burns.

Jeannie and Jonathan Lavine provided the funding to the Better Angels Society to endow this award through the Crimson
Lion/Lavine Family Foundation.

“We believe that history helps all of us better understand who we are as a people and how our culture is enriched by diverse voices,” they said. “Flannery O’Connor was an artist of remarkable talent and originality, but she also defied simple categorization given her southern upbringing, her strong Catholic faith, and her commitment to a sense of place and
individuality.”

The Better Angels Society has supplemented the Lavines’ award by providing additional prizes to finalists, with $50,000 to “Mae West: Dirty Blonde,” directed by Sally Rosenthal, and $25,000 grants to “The Adventures of Sally Bellow,”
directed by Assaf Galay; “The First Angry Man,” directed by Jason Cohn; “Mr Soul,” directed by Melissa Haizlip; and “9 to 5: The Story of a Movement,” directed by Julia Reichert.

Burns has won 16 Emmy Awards. He’s been nominated for Oscars for “Brooklyn Bridge” and “The Statue of Liberty.” His eight-part “Country Music” series aired last month and he’s working on projects on Ernest Hemingway, Muhammad Ali, Ben Franklin, Leonardo da Vinci, the Holocaust, President Lyndon Johnson and the American buffalo.

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