4 Great Documentaries Currently Free on YouTube


So, recently YouTube started showing whole movies for free -- much like Hulu, there are occasional ads interspersed, but they're not too bad. The video quality is better than average for a YouTube video, and of course, it's free, so what do you have to lose? In this roundup, I'll point you to four great documentaries currently live on YouTube...and later in the week I'll focus on a fifth that might just blow your mind.

American Movie

This 1999 documentary follows Milwaukee filmmaker Mark Borchardt as he tries to film his indie horror epic Coven, despite lacking funding, proper equipment, crew, a complete script, and so on. (For what it's worth, Coven was eventually released direct to video.) Don't get me wrong -- I actually really like Borchardt as a person, though Coven is probably be pretty unwatchable. In this documentary, you can see a struggling filmmaker whose film is effectively powered entirely by his unstoppable personality. American Movie was awarded the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival.

This movie is fun, occasionally tinged with sadness, and ultimately uplifting. Watch it here until September 30, 2009. (Note: American Movie is Rated R, so you will need to have a YouTube or Google account to actually watch this one.) Meanwhile, watch the trailer below (the actual trailer starts about 30 seconds into the video):

Super Size Me

Morgan Spurlock's iconic 2004 documentary's concept is pretty simple: the director spends an entire month eating just McDonald's food. The results are alternately hilarious and disgusting, as Spurlock consumes over 5,000 calories per day and develops serious health problems during just one month. I feel some kinship with Spurlock, as he's from West Virginia (where my folks live), and he has cool facial hair. Anyway, watch Super Size Me in high resolution here or just watch below:

The Times of Harvey Milk

This Oscar-winning 1984 documentary follows the political life of Harvey Milk, who was San Francisco's first openly gay supervisor. Some of the footage from this film is reused in the recent Oscar-winning narrative film Milk. They're both worth watching, but I saw this one before I saw Milk. Both made me cry. Watch The Times of Harvey Milk on YouTube in high resolution here, or just watch it below:

Buena Vista Social Club

This 1999 documentary by Wim Wenders is named for the eponymous musical venue in Havana, Cuba. The film follows Ry Cooder, who brings together a laundry list of Cuban musicians to record an album (which I'm sure you've heard). The film is both about music (Cuban music, specifically) and the political situation in Cuba (specifically, how absurdly difficult it is for musicians to travel to Cuba from the US, despite being just offshore). Embedding on this one has been disabled, so you'll have to watch Buena Vista Social Club on YouTube here. But first, check out the trailer:

For More Free Documentaries...

First, check out YouTube's Documentary & Biography page. Next, check out Hulu's documentary page (they've also got Super Size Me, as well as The Future of Food which may be of interest). For past Documentaries I Like columns, here's the complete archive.

Got a great documentary to share? Leave the name and (if possible) a link in the comments!