Boston couple donates $15 million to ‘help create the next Ken Burns’

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tags: documentaries, Ken Burns

A Boston couple and Ken Burns are on a mission: to find the next Ken Burns.

Philanthropists Jeannie and Jonathan Lavine have donated $15 million to create The Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film, a national award recognizing exemplary accomplishment in historical documentaries. The $200,000 award, a finishing grant to help up-and-coming filmmakers complete final production, will be disbursed annually for the next 10 years.

Part of that $15 million will also help fund four of Burns’s upcoming films: “The American Revolution,’’ “America and the Holocaust,’’ “LBJ & the Great Society,’’ and “Benjamin Franklin.’’ The filmmaker has won 16 Emmys and has twice been nominated for an Oscar.

“I’d like to see there be not another Ken Burns but maybe 10 other Ken Burnses,’’ said Jonathan Lavine, co-managing partner of Bain Capital. “Telling our stories in an unbiased, fact-based, long-formed way is so critically important to civic education in our country.

“Jeannie and I have had a belief that it’s really important to have good-quality documentaries in the world. To find, support, and help create the next Ken Burns is an important mission.’’

The Lavines, who met as students at Harvard Business School, helped fund 2017’s “The Vietnam War,’’ a 10-part documentary series directed by Burns and Lynn Novick. In 2018, the couple donated $5 million toward CitySpace, the recently opened WBUR events space on Commonwealth Avenue. Jeannie also serves on several boards, including The Better Angels Society, a nonprofit “dedicated to educating Americans about their history through documentary film.’’

“What they did here was completely blow me away. I don’t know how else to describe it,’’ Burns said from his Walpole, N.H. home. “Their contribution to each [upcoming film] will be so significant, it permits me to have a more intimate relationship with the material, and not be just on the road raising money.

“I could easily go to a streaming service if I was willing to give up things that I’m not willing to give up. So what the Lavines let me do is be myself.’’

The $200,000 finishing award could make all the difference to an up-and-coming filmmaker, said Burns, a 1975 grad of Hampshire College in Amherst.

“To give a prize of $200,000 might be the difference of finishing a film, and putting it up on the shelf and getting a real job, and that was my dilemma when I was starting out,’’ said Burns, alluding to his 1981 Academy Award-nominated debut “Brooklyn Bridge.’’

Read entire article at The Boston Globe