Now that you've seen Salvador Dali on "What's My Line" and at the High, are you interested in finally seeing Un Chien Andalou, a bizarre 16-minute surrealist film created by Dali and Luis Buñuel? Maybe a student missed school the day you talked about Robert McNamara and showed The Fog of War, and needs to watch it over the weekend. Or do you just want to watch the original 1968 zombie flick Night of the Living Dead? Lots of folks go to Hulu or YouTube to see TV shows and pop culture videos, but there are hundreds of professionally produced documentaries and classic films available to watch online for free.
The Moving Images Archive, a subset of the Internet Archive (also home to the Wayback Machine web page archive), is a library of thousands of video files, either in the public domain or uploaded by the copyright holder. Most of the films are downloadable -- some have been edited or enhanced by users, and those versions are also available in the archive.
"Thousands of feature-length documentary films are produced every year, but almost nobody gets a chance to see them. A few dozen are shown to small audiences at major film festivals, and a handful make it into theaters. For every blockbuster, there are hundreds of documentaries that never find an audience," Walter Mossberg wrote in a review of Snag Films. Snag Films was created by a documentary filmmaker frustrated by the "distribution bottleneck" that prevents most documentaries from ever being seen by a wide audience. The website offers a collection of over 1,600 documentary films, both short and full-length. Several of these films were released commercially to great success (Super Size Me, for instance), and there are PBS and National Geographic documentaries that have been seen on TV, but there are also hundreds of shorter or indie-produced documentaries and labors of love.
Snag Learning is a subset of Snag Films that features selected documentaries for middle and high school students. The web page for each Snag Learning selection includes discussion questions and information about a related non-profit organization. Some include teacher-submitted lesson plans, and teachers are encouraged to contribute their own materials for the film. Recent additions to the Snag Learning site are The Danish Solution, a 58-minute documentary narrated by Garrison Keillor, about the citizens of Denmark who stood against Hitler's plans to exterminate Danish Jews, and Bridge over the Wadi, about Jewish and Arab children learning together in a bilingual school in Israel.
Of course there are dozens, if not hundreds, of free films scattered across the web, some on individual sites, many on YouTube and Google Video. The fabulous site Open Culture created a list of "200 Free Movies Online" to get learners started off in the right direction to see Russian epics, indie films, the weirdness of David Lynch, and the original slapstick of the great Charlie Chaplin.
The Gold Rush (1924)