Hundreds of documentary films now available for free streaming online

At a time when independent documentary films are experiencing a creative boom, yet theatrical distribution channels have gone bust, the beta launch today of SnagFilms helps both independent filmmakers and iconic production companies – and the audiences that want to see their movies.

SnagFilms was created to address the bottleneck in distribution for quality documentaries that has left many great films unable to reach their potential audience or to provide a viable financial return. It also offers established media companies with deep libraries a way of getting “long-tail” documentaries out of the vaults and before a worldwide, on-demand audience.

Founded by Ted Leonsis, AOL Vice Chairman Emeritus and producer of award-winning documentary films; backed by Leonsis, AOL co-founder and Revolution Chairman Steve Case, and venture capitalist Miles Gilburne; and led by industry veterans, SnagFilms brings the best nonfiction films to a global web audience, promotes viral web distribution through virtual movie theater widgets, and encourages users to engage with the films’ issues and supporter communities. At launch, more than 250 films are available for immediate streamed playback, requiring no software downloads, sign-ups or waiting, and an additional 200 films, already under contract, will be added by mid-August.

The new service features award-winning titles from some of the greatest names in documentary film production and distribution, including PBS, National Geographic, United Nations, Sundance Preserve, IndiePix, Peter Jennings Productions, Arts Alliance America, ITVS, Koch Lorber Films, and many others. (See below for a list of participating libraries, and a sample roster of the films available for immediate viewing.) Many of the most prominent documentary filmmakers are participating not only by having their films distributed via SnagFilms, but by engaging with their audience through blogs and offering special “bonus” material, as well as suggesting nonprofit organizations that viewers motivated by these films can link to and support via charitable contributions, volunteering or spreading the word.

In a separate news release, SnagFilms announced that it had acquired indieWIRE, the leading news, information, and social networking site for the international independent film community. IndieWIRE will continue to operate as a standalone, independent site while also providing content for The release announcing the acquisition of indieWIRE is here:

“There has never been a time when so many high-quality socially relevant documentary films have been made, yet even though tens of thousands of documentaries are submitted to film festivals every year, only a handful find theatrical distribution. SnagFilms was created so that anyone who has a website, publishes a blog, or participates in a social network can open an online multiplex theater, giving others an opportunity to watch one or more of the films we’ll stream, to distribute these films by snagging them for their own sites, and to support the causes promoted by these films by linking to participating nonprofits. Through SnagFilms, everyone on the web can be a theater owner and a film distributor if they just donate their pixels and enable these incredible documentaries to be seen,” said SnagFilms Chairman Ted Leonsis.

How It Works
Viewers who go to the SnagFilms website can find, view, “snag”, share, and support one of the hundreds of films available for free, advertising-supported viewing.

Find: Visitors to can find a documentary they would like to see via the search window; or by scanning a complete list of films, selecting from the most popular, most recently added; or from editorial recommendations; or by browsing eleven categories, from “Politics” to “Sports”, “Environment” to “Health”, from “History” to “Life and Culture”, and more. All of the films have information pages including descriptive, contextual material, in some instances chosen or created by the filmmaker exclusively for the SnagFilms’ audience. Films are also accompanied by a list of similar titles recommended by SnagFilms’ editors. Films offered include both recently produced documentaries, and some classics of the genre made available online by some of the industry’s most prominent distributors.

View: Viewers can choose to watch the documentaries on, with each film streamed via an embedded media player. Each film will include brief advertisements. Viewers will be able to comment on specific movies on the site by rating the film, providing reviews and recommendations, or posting comments on the film’s blog.

Snag and Share Virally: Each film also is available in a widget that easily allows viewers, bloggers and others to take the film and accompanying material with them (hence the name “SnagFilms”) and place it on their own website, blog, or social network page. The SnagFilms widget, modified from software developed by Clearspring Technologies, seamlessly enables the viewer to snag either a single movie, or multiple movies in pre-arranged category widgets. With a few easy clicks, these widgets can be placed by any viewer on their Facebook or MySpace pages, and dozens of other social network sites. Indeed, SnagFilms widgets can turn any web page into a digital movie theater, offering free, full-length viewing of the best of non-fiction films via a pop-up player. The potential for viral distribution is infinite, as anyone can snag and share any of the films in the library, and from any site on which the widget is offered.

Support: Participants can turn their support for a film into action by linking to one of the participating nonprofits. In some cases, nonprofit organizations have been specifically designated by the filmmakers. In other cases, SnagFilms will link to a charity designated by Global Giving, which connects donors to several hundred pre-screened projects around the world.

Content providers share equally with SnagFilms in the in-stream advertising revenues on the website and wherever on the web the film is played via a SnagFilms virtual movie theater widget. Additionally, SnagFilms provides links to sites chosen by the filmmaker or distributor, or enabled by a SnagFilms partner, where the viewer can purchase many of the films in DVD or download-to-own formats.

Selected Titles in SnagFilms Library

  • Africa Unite, Directed and Produced by Stephanie Black
  • Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore, Directed by Frank Popper, Audience Award, Silverdocs (2006)
  • Class Act, Directed by Randall Miller
  • Darkon, Directed by Luke Meyer, Audience Award, SXSW (2006)
  • Dig!, Directed by Ondi Timoner, Sundance Film Festival – Grand Jury Prize (2004), Bend Film Festival, Jury Prize, Best Director (2004)
  • Fighting Goliath: Texas Coal Wars, Directed by Matt Hames, produced by The Redford Center at Sundance Preserve, narrated by Robert Redford
  • The Future of Food, Directed by Deborah Koons
  • Heavy Metal in Baghdad, Directed by Suroosh Alvi and Eddy Moretti, shown at SXSW Film Festival (2008), Toronto Film Festival (2007), Berlin Film Festival (2008)
  • The Ladies, Directed by Christina Voros, Grand Jury Prize Winner, Slamdance (2008)
  • Living Goddess, Directed by Ishbel Whitaker
  • Paper Clips, Directed by Elliot Berlin and Joe Fab
  • Run Granny Run, Directed by Marlo Poras, Audience Award, SXSW (2007)
  • Street Children, Directed by Ivan Nikolov, premiered at 2007 Cannes Film Festival
  • Super Size Me, Directed by Morgan Spurlock
  • What Would Jesus Buy, Directed by Rob VanAlkemade

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