Detroit Bankruptcy Documentary Wins National Film Award

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Ken Burns speaks last night at the 2021 Library of Congress Lavine / Ken Burns Prize for Film Awards program. // Courtesy of the Library of Congress

“Gradually, Then Suddenly: The Bankruptcy of Detroit,” a documentary film directed by Sam Katz and James McGovern, won the 2021 Lavine / Ken Burns Award for Cinema from the Library of Congress and a final grant of $ 200,000.

The award is presented by the Better Angels Society based in Washington, DC, a nonprofit organization dedicated to exploring American history through documentary film.

The Detroit documentary explores the city’s decline, culminating in the largest municipal bankruptcy in US history in 2013. It also chronicles the journey that followed, from disaster to possible.

“Each of the films we recognize today is an extraordinary work of art,” said renowned documentary filmmaker Ken Burns. “We are very honored to provide filmmakers with grants to help them finish films and share them with audiences. I have long believed that our ability to engage with historical topics will help us meet some of the challenges we face today. “

Submissions were reviewed by an internal committee comprised of filmmakers from Florentine Films and experts from the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center, the Library of Congress’s state-of-the-art motion picture and sound conservation facility. Six finalists were then reviewed and shortened to the top two submissions by a national jury.

The finalist was “Free Chol Soo Lee”, directed by Julie Ha and Eugene Yi, which tells the story of a Korean immigrant wrongly convicted of murder in 1973.

“We received a superb collection of films this year,” says Carla Hayden, Librarian of Congress. “Each speaks to a specific period in our country’s history, but echoes the issues we face today as a nation. The selection of the two winners from the six finalists was extremely difficult. Both were gripping tales of complicated subjects, including the decline of a great city and its return, and a complicated story of injustice that deals with race and prejudice that unfold in unexpected ways.

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