Burns, the noted documentarian, said he knows from experience the expense involved in getting projects like these done. The film by Elizabeth Coffman and Mark Bosco "made me go out and buy her books," he said.
Burns' nonprofit Better Angels Society is collaborating with philanthropists Jeannie and Jonathan Lavine and the Library of Congress in funding the award. Judges sifted through some 80 entrants, he said.
"We were stunned not only by the volume of submissions but by the quality of them," he said. A $50,000 grant is being given to the makers of "Mae West: Dirty Blonde," the awards' runner-up, with four $25,000 grants given to other finalists.
The annual prize will recognize a documentary maker who uses original research and a compelling narrative to tell stories that touch on some aspect of American history.