Documentary Hold Your Fire directed by Stefan Forbes (Boogie Man, The Lee Atwater Story) has nabbed the second annual Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film, a $200,000 finishing grant for a filmmaker who uses original research and compelling narrative to tell stories that touch on an aspect of American history.
Produced by Amir Soltani and Tia Wou, the feature-length doc explores the longest hostage siege in NYPD history in1973 at a Brooklyn sporting goods store and how Harvey Schlossberg, an officer with a doctorate in psychology, averted a bloodbath.
In the incident, four young Black men stealing guns for self-defense were cornered by police. A violent gun battle ensued and soon a police officer lay dead in the freezing rain. Hundreds of officers poured into Williamsburg intent on carrying out then standard NYPD operating procedure: issue an ultimatum, then assault the store with deadly force despite hostages being trapped inside.
Schlossberg, who had previously been tasked with finding a solution to tragic hostage crises at Attica and the Munich Olympics, used communication and de-escalation, a practice that put him at odds with powerful NYPD superiors but gave rise to modern hostage negotiation.
Production began in 2014. Former New York Police Commissioner William Bratton was instrumental in granting the filmmakers unusually open access to NYPD personnel and materials.
The film was chosen out of a hundred and fifty-one submissions by a panel of academics and filmmakers, including and Elizabeth Coffman, whose documentary Flannery won the inaugural prize last year.
The award will be presented in a virtual ceremony today that includes Ken Burns, Wynton Marsalis and Librarian of Congress, Dr. Carla Hayden, in a conversation about the power of storytelling and collective history.
“Hold Your Fire is an extraordinary examination of policing in America,” said Burns. “As we find ourselves in the midst of reexamining the relationship between police and communities of color, this film resurfaces a critical moment in that history.”
Philanthropists Jeannie and Jonathan Lavine through their Crimson Lion/Lavine Family Foundation, provided the prize’s funding through nonprofit The Better Angels Society.
“In a year that has been so challenging for independent filmmakers, we are thrilled to see that so many of them are still looking to history for inspiration, and creating enduring works of art with yesterday’s footage, photos and songs,” the Lavines said.
The Better Angels Society provided a handful of finalists with additional cash awards of $50,000 and $25,000. The organization also unveiled a new annual mentorship for five filmmakers “whose work explores inclusive stories in American history.” The Lavines have endowed that program with $1 million.