Watch All The Documentary Movies You Can Handle, Free Online - And Yes, It's Legal.

by Paul Michael on 7 January 2010 15 comments
Photo: Amazon

My favorite genre of movies these days is the documentary. I seek them out like some bizarre addict, soaking up 90 minute chunks of knowledge and feeling good knowing that my time in front of the TV (or computer) has at least taught me something. I get many of these films from the library, free. But that does involve a wait and traveling to and from the library. I also have the basic Netflix subscription, which gives me instant access to dozens of great docs whenever I want. But now, I've found a third great option, and it's the best of both worlds — free and instant.

FreeDocumentaries.org is a website devoted to bringing documentary movies to the masses. Why free? Well, here's what the site has to say about it:

Why do documentary film makers allow their films to be streamed for free on the internet?
Many documentary film makers realize that having their films streamed on the internet for free will not only educate people on their perspective but will also encourage people to purchase the DVD.

I'll be the first to admit that although some people will buy the DVD, many probably won't. So, I'm not sure I agree with the last part of that statement. But the rest makes good sense. Most documentary movies are made by people passionate about a subject, and they are done on a dime. They are a labor of love, and the focus is not on money but education. Therefore, a free outlet for their voice to be heard, well, it's common sense.

I did my due diligence though and looked further on the site for reassurance that I wasn't ripping anyone off or stealing content. This also comes from the site:

Do producers give you permission to show their films?
We follow all copyright laws. We deal with streaming partners who handle all copyright issues. By embedding films we can not legally be liable for any copyright infringement as stated by the DMCA. If you feel that your film is online without your permission, we will forward you to our streaming partners. When they agree that a copyright infringement has taken place, your film will be removed from our site.

Basically, the site will take anything down that does not comply with copyright laws. And I did find some of these docs, in full, posted on youtube by the makers of the movies. That also leads me to believe that they really do want to get the word out.

So now that the issue of legality is out of the way, what can you enjoy? Well, what would you like?

I found some big hits, including the modern classic Super Size Me by Morgan Spurlock, Sicko by Michael Moore, and the web sensation Loose Change, about 9/11. But there are many other titles to choose from, leaving me with that great feeling of being a kid in a candy store. Here are just a few titles of interest that I'll be watching over the next few weeks:

Iraq For Sale: The War Profiteers

Hacking Democracy (from HBO films)

Jesus Camp

Money As Debt

Earthlings

Supermarket Secrets

Ghosts Of Rwanda

Most of the movies come with a trailer and synopsis, so you can see what the main subject matter is before diving in. The site also posts comments about the movies. And when you've chosen your movie, it plays full screen for you. So, better get that broadband connection or face a constantly sticking flick.

This site is a great example of freedom of information. These films were made with blood, sweat and tears. They were made to reach out to us and drive home a point. Whether you agree or disagree with that point is not the issue — the fact that we live in a society where films like these can be made and watched without fear is the greater issue here. And I for one will be taking advantage of this wonderful resource.

Oh, and if you do watch one of the movies, let us know how it was. I don't have time to watch them all. Shame.

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Guest's picture
Tracey

I love reading your tips and the one about how to hack your DVD player let me get my husband a set of Region 2 documentaries for Christmas that weren't available in the States. So thanks!

But this site seems on the whole no different any other pirated movie aggregator (such as surfthechannel.com) who takes no legal responsibility for content because they don't actually host the videos themselves. A few of the documentaries may be provided by the film makers to widen their audience, raise public awareness, whatever. But I'm pretty sure most of the filmmakers have no idea their movie is up there.

Notice they do not remove the link when the makers complain to them but only when they file a complaint with the place hosting the video and that place agrees there was a breech of copyright. Which means they take it down. Which means OF COURSE FreeDocumentaries.org takes it down, because they have nothing to link to anymore. They are staying just barely on the right side of the law by allowing other sites to do their dirty work, etc. Basically they are enabling intellectual property theft.

Your heart was in the right place, but I think this a very misleading post that is encouraging internet piracy of documentaries.

Guest's picture
Stephanie Hunter

I find snagfilms to be better. Check it out, same idea, more selection! www.snagfilms.com

Guest's picture
Guest

I think that is short sighted to state that people won't buy a movie after they watch it for free. With any art, movies also need to evolve with and as technology develops. One can hope the see a similar trend as you do with artists who give their music away for free. The trend is profit. In case you are out of the loop.

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Opinion Gems

I perused the films, even watched teasers for a few, and found that most did not rise above the level of simple propaganda. All were trying to convince the viewer through an emotional (and sometimes vicious) appeal that their cause was just.

Sorry, Paul - freedom of information or not - unless you already agreed with the premise of the film, I found that most are not worth taking the time to view.

Guest's picture
Scott k.

Of course documentaries are mostly about someone's opinion on a given subject. Documentary filmmakers seldom make films based only on conjecture and hunches of what they thin is true. They most often mix in a fair share of history and scientific facts that are not in dispute. Most often we get a finished film that is not a good balance of fact vs. supposition. Therefore, such a documentary should be considered unreliable as a good source of fact and reason.
This is clearly not the case with all documentaries. There are numerous good ones to be viewed. I would speculate there is a good chance that you have an interesting life observation that I and others would benefit from if you were to make a film on that subject?. If you were to make a documentary on a subject that you are passionate about, you may enlighten many people. To enlighten people is what drives many a filmmaker to make documentaries. Not all filmmakers are delusional and greedy. Especially documentary filmmakers, as even successful films aren't very lucrative. That is where I would hope my intelligence kicks in. During and after I watch a documentary, I consider what is being proposed. The documentary may be pure crap, full of conjecture, assumptions and speculations based on a lot of nothing. There are a lot of documentaries like that out there. However, your documentary (or anybody's) may educate me with an idea(s) that I had never known or thought about. Then, like an educated person should do, I do some research on what has been proposed in the film, and I come to find that the ideas are very sound...or out to lunch. There, you may have educated me in an area I likely would never have known about in my lifetime. Knowledge is one of the greatest gifts you can give someone. Good filmmakers often give me the gift of knowledge. Clearly, a lot of documentary makers have a selfish agenda which has nothing to do with educating people with real knowledge. That doesn't mean you can or should lump all documentary filmmakers together. Occasionally, I will watch a documentary that educates me and changes my life. That is not often, but such rare genius filmmakers are doing a noble deed to pass on their knowledge to other people.
P.S. - You likely noticed that I did not include examples of documentaries that fit the bill of being legitimately educational and useful to mankind. That is because I don't want to write a book and debate the merit of individual documentaries. I just wanted to throw out the idea that many people have great knowledge that is unknown to most people. Documentaries are a perfect medium to disseminate such knowledge, if the holder of such knowledge chooses to share it.

Guest's picture
pdxdid

Stepping aside from the legal debate to give a quick review. Definitely watch Jesus Camp. It's disturbing to watch how brainwashed these kids get, but somehow fascinating. Enjoy.

Guest's picture
ness

great link! thanks.
the Canadian Film Board also offers free videos, docs, etc. here: http://www.nfb.ca/

Guest's picture
Lillie

The contributors offer some valid points. However, in the name of research, I will definitely check them out. Documentaries are some of my favorites to watch.

Guest's picture
m65

I'll be the first to admit that although some people will buy the DVD, many probably won't. So, I'm not sure I agree with the last part of that statement. But the rest makes good sense. Most documentary movies are made by people passionate about a subject, and they are done on a dime. They are a labor of love, and the focus is not on money but education. Therefore, a free outlet for their voice to be heard, well, it's common sense.

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Guest's picture
Patrick

Loose Change? Really? What a meaningless piece of **** for conspiratards.

Guest's picture

Super Size me was a great idea. They should make more original documentaries like this one.

Guest's picture
deb

Very interesting. I didn't know that you can watch all of this stuff for free. Thanks for a great post. I look forward to your next post.

Guest's picture
kt

since when did legality been an issue? the people who watch are not the culprits; it is the people that put them there in the first place. If you can get something on the internet with a watch here or download button, then it is yours

Guest's picture
Guest

or just turn to http://documentary.net