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11 Free Documentaries Available on YouTube

YouTube isn't just for copyright infringement -- here are 11 documentary films legally available on YouTube in their entirety. They're funded with ads, and are shown in roughly DVD (480p) quality. Be aware that some films move in and out of the free category, so if you're reading this in 2012 or beyond, some films may no longer be available. Check YouTube's Documentaries page and click "Free" for a list of current offerings.

1. Buena Vista Social Club

Wim Wenders follows Ry Cooder in Cuba, in the now-famous documentary that spawned a soundtrack everybody bought in 1997. Here's a snippet from the description:

The album won a Grammy, and in this refreshing documentary, Wim Wenders shows these exceptional musicians in their hometown, following them into their usual hang-outs -- the cafes, clubs and even living rooms -- as well as to concerts in Amsterdam and New York's Carnegie Hall, capturing their incredible vitality. "In Cuba, music flows like a river," according to Ry Cooder, who adds "Music is like a treasure hunt; you dig and dig and sometimes find something." Pursuing this metaphor, Wenders wanted to make a film that would "just float on this river ... not interfering with it, just drifting along." The result is a film full of vitality and positive energy, which is also an absolute delight to musical ears.

Watch it on YouTube (embedding is disabled). Here's the trailer:

2. The Eyes of Tammy Faye

With narration by RuPaul, this documentary follows Tammy Faye Bakker, who is well-known for her remarkable eyelash extensions and her televangelism with husband Jim Bakker. From the film's description:

Riding a tide of religious fundamentalism, the Bakkers reached their gaudy heights with the PTL Network and the spinoff Christian theme park Heritage USA. Then the roof caved in. Jim was forced to pay hush money to future Playboy centerfold model Jessica Hahn and then was submitted to rival Jerry Falwell's hostile take-over of the network. Soon Jim was in jail for fraud, and Tammy was at Betty Ford for addiction to prescription drugs. This film was screened at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival.

Watch it on YouTube (embedding is disabled). Here's the trailer:

3. OT: Our Town

Compton high school students put on a production of Thornton Wilder's Our Town, with remarkable results. From the film's description:

When it became obvious that the financially strapped school (which had recently canceled its football program) couldn't provide a budget for sets or costumes, the students did what money-conscious high-school theater departments have been doing for decades -- they staged Thornton Wilder's Our Town, a drama commonly performed without the use of sets or large props. But what would Wilder's allegorical story of life in a small turn-of-the-century Midwestern hamlet mean to kids in Compton? And would the inexperienced students and faculty be able to bring it off? OT: Our Town is a documentary which looks at Dominguez High's brave experiment and the people who struggled to make it happen.

Watch it on YouTube or watch the whole thing below (embedding is enabled for this one):

4. Koyaanisqatsi

Godfrey Reggio, Ron Fricke, and Philip Glass collaborated to make a stunning film that defies description. The film has no narration, almost no language (except brief titles at the beginning and end, plus credits), and no plot. And it's literally my favorite film of all time -- it changed the way I look at film, and every time I watch it I'm devastated. The only sad thing about this film being available on YouTube is that it's interrupted with ads -- perhaps the most ridiculous thing you could imagine for this kind of work. Oh well, it's free. From the film's description:

An art-house circuit sensation, this feature-length documentary is visually arresting and possesses a clear, pro-environmental political agenda. Without a story, dialogue, or characters, Koyaanisqatsi (1983) (the film's title is a Hopi word roughly translated into English as "life out of balance") is composed of nature imagery, manipulated in slow motion, double exposure or time lapse, juxtaposed with footage of humans' devastating environmental impact on the planet.

Watch it on YouTube or watch the whole thing below (embedding is enabled for this one):

5. Down from the Mountain

Remember O Brother, Where Art Thou? This is a documentary and concert film featuring the music from the film. Allison Krauss, Gillian Welch, Emmylou Harris, Ralph Stanley, and many more make this a concert film worth watching. From the film's description:

For their film O Brother, Where Art Thou?, set in the American South during the 1930s, filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen collaborated with musician, songwriter, and producer T-Bone Burnett to compile a score that reflected the rich variety of musical influences of the rural South during the Depression. Burnett brought together a veritable who's who of American roots music for the project, and while the film was a moderate success, the soundtrack album to O Brother, Where Art Thou? was a surprise hit, topping the country charts for several weeks and helping to open the ears of a new audience to the beauty and rough-hewn poetry of bluegrass, traditional country, rural blues, and gospel music. Shortly before the film's release, Burnett assembled many of the artists who appeared on the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack for a special concert at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium (the original home of the Grand Ole Opry) to benefit the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum; the evening was filmed, and Down From the Mountain documents this very special night of music that celebrates America's musical past as it points to the future.

Watch it on YouTube (embedding is disabled). I couldn't find a reliable trailer, so you'll have to settle for this clip from O Brother (the real singers here are Dan Tyminski, Harley Allen, and Pat Enright):

6. Man with a Movie Camera

This 1929 Russian silent film is sometimes seen as a precursor to Koyaanisqatsi, because it has no plot, actors, and so on -- it's purely visual, and it uses stylistic techniques (like fast edits and slow motion) that have become part of modern filmmaking. From the film's description:

Soviet director Dziga Vertov's experimental film grew out of his belief, shared by his editor, Elizaveta Svilova (who was also his wife), and his cinematographer, Mikhail Kaufman (also his brother), that the true goal of cinema should be to present life as it is lived. To that end, the filmmakers offer a day-in-the-life portrait of a city from dawn until dusk, though they actually shot their footage in several cities, including Moscow, Kiev, and Odessa. After an opening statement, there are no words in the film (neither voice-over nor titles), just dazzling imagery, kinetically edited - as a celebration of the modern city with a marked emphasis on its buildings and machinery.

Watch it on YouTube or watch the whole thing below (embedding is enabled for this one):

7. The Times of Harvey Milk

This 1983 documentary, we see the history of "The Mayor of Castro Street." If you've seen the biopic Milk, you'll recognize lots of this material. It's a rare film that has a
100% fresh rotating on Rotten Tomatoes.

On November 27, 1978, Dan White, a former city supervisor who was desperate to regain his post, entered City Hall with a gun and murdered both San Francisco's mayor, George Moscone, and Milk. At the trial, White's lawyer skillfully turned the jury's attention away from his client's public anti-gay statements to focus on White's spotless record and his extremely agitated mental state on the day of the murders. White was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to a relatively brief jail term, sparking a demonstration and riot by gay supporters of the murdered men. The film considers Milk's accomplishments and his exceptional popularity; this is not an objective look at a man, but a celebration of a martyr. Winner of an Academy award for Best Documentary Feature, The Times of Harvey Milk was released while White was serving his sentence; he was paroled in 1984 and committed suicide the next year.

Watch it on YouTube or watch the whole thing below (embedding is enabled for this one):

8. The Atomic Cafe

Combining footage of Cold War "educational" films like Duck and Cover with narration, this documentary is grim, sometimes funny, and often bizarre. When I saw this on PBS while I was in high school, it blew my mind -- how could these propaganda films be so stupid? How had I never seen the devastation in Japan after the bombings? It's impressive and horrifying. From the film's description:

The Atomic Cafe is a sometimes hilarious, sometimes sobering collection of film clips taken from American propaganda films of the 1950s. The thrust of the production is to expose the misinformation (and downright lies) dispensed by the government concerning the atomic bomb. We are shown vignettes from such classic instructional films as Duck and Cover, wherein school children are assured that they will survive a nuclear attack simply by huddling together next to the schoolhouse wall. In another sequence, a pack of pigs are dressed in Army uniforms and left to die at "Ground Zero" during a nuclear test to see if human beings (who purportedly have the same skin consistency as pigs) could endure such an ordeal.

Watch it on YouTube or watch the whole thing below (embedding is enabled for this one):

9. Nanook Of The North

This 1922 proto-documentary is required viewing for students of film -- it's the first time we saw a real feature film that wasn't fiction. It's a bit slow by today's standards, but a landmark documentary nonetheless. From the film's description:

Filmmaker Robert Flaherty had lived among the Eskimos in Canada for many years as a prospector and explorer, and he had shot some footage of them on an informal basis before he decided to make a more formal record of their daily lives. Financing was provided by Revillion Freres, a French fur company with an outpost on the shores of Hudson Bay. Filming took place between August 1920, and August 1921, mostly on the Ungava Peninsula of Hudson Bay. Flaherty employed two recently developed Akeley gyroscope cameras which required minimum lubrication; this allowed him to tilt and pan for certain shots even in cold weather. He also set up equipment to develop and print his footage on location and show it in a makeshift theater to his subjects. Rather than simply record events as they happened, Flaherty staged scenes -- fishing, hunting, building an igloo -- to carry along his narrative. The film's tremendous success confirmed Flaherty's status as a first-rate storyteller and keen observer of man's fragile relationship with the harshest environmental conditions. (In a sadly appropriate footnote, Nanook, the subject of the film, died of starvation not long after the film's release.)

Watch it on YouTube or watch the whole thing below (embedding is enabled for this one):

10. Life In A Day

This YouTube-sponsored documentary shows what happens when you ask people around the world to show you their lives. While it's not the most meaningful documentary around, it's touching at times, and often surprisingly well-photographed. From the fim's description:

Director Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland) and producer Ridley Scott (Alien, Gladiator) team up to offer this candid snapshot of a single day on planet Earth. Compiled from over 80,000 YouTube submissions by contributors in 192 countries, Life in a Day presents a microcosmic view of our daily experiences as a global society. From the mundane to the profound, everything has its place as we spend 90 minutes gaining greater insight into the lives of people who may be more like us than we ever suspected, despite the fact that we're separated by incredible distances.

Watch it on YouTube or watch the whole thing below (embedding is enabled for this one):

11. The Day the Wave Came

This 30-minute documentary recounts the 2004 Tsunami, including graphic footage of the wave and interviews with survivors. From the film's description:

The magnitude and destruction of a Tsunami is hard to comprehend. This minute-by-minute account reveals the human face of the 2004 tragedy. A torrent of water sweeps through a street, destroying everything in its path. In the background, women are screaming. "I remember yelling 'we're all going to die, we're all going to die'", recalls one survivor. Hours earlier, meteorologist Smith Dharmasroja had desperately tried to get a warning out. When the wave struck Sri Lanka, Sulochana Perera attempted to rescue many drowning children, only to see her efforts dashed as the second bigger wave hit. This report reveals how events unfolded around the Indian Ocean: why no warnings were issued, survivors' stories and what the impact has been on their shattered lives. Includes remarkable pictures of the Tsunami.

Watch it on YouTube or watch the whole thing below (embedding is enabled for this one):

For 11-11-11, we'll be posting twenty-four '11 lists' throughout the day. Check back 11 minutes after every hour for the latest installment, or see them all here.

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This Harry Potter Candle Melts to Reveal Your Hogwarts House—and Smells Amazing
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As it gets darker and colder outside, the thought of lighting a candle in your room and curling up with a good book becomes more appealing. A sorting hat candle from the Muggle Library Candles Etsy store makes the perfect companion to whatever Harry Potter book you happen to be re-reading for the hundredth time this season. According to the Cleveland news outlet WKYC, the candle slowly reveals your Hogwarts house as it burns.

From the outside, the item looks like a normal white candle. But when lit, the outer layer of plain wax melts away, allowing the colorful interior to poke through. The candles come in one of four concealed colors: red for Gryffindor, blue for Ravenclaw, yellow for Hufflepuff, and green for Slytherin. The only way to know which house you’re destined to match with is by purchasing a candle and putting it to use. According to the label, the scent evokes “excitement, fear, and nervousness.” The smell can also be described as lemon with sandalwood, vanilla, and patchouli.

Due to its viral popularity, the Fort Worth, Texas-based Etsy store has put all orders on hold while working to get its current batch of shipments out to customers. You can follow Muggle Library Candles on Instagram for updates on the sorting candle, as well as other Harry Potter-themed candles in their repertoire, like parseltongue and free elf.

[h/t WKYC]

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15 Fascinating Facts About Candyman
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PolyGram Filmed Entertainment

Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) is a Chicago graduate student with a deep fascination with urban legends, which she and her friend Bernadette (Kasi Lemmons) are using as the basis for a thesis project. After they stumble across the local legend of Candyman, a well-to-do black artist who fell in love with a white woman in the late 1800s and was murdered for it, Helen wants to learn more. When she’s told that Candyman still haunts Chicago's Cabrini-Green housing project, and that his spirit can be summoned by repeating his name into a mirror five times, Helen does just that … and all hell breaks loose.

What began as a low-budget indie film has morphed into a contemporary classic of the horror genre, and essential Halloween viewing. In 1992, English filmmaker Bernard Rose—who got his start working as a gopher on The Muppet Show—turned Clive Barker’s short story “The Forbidden” into Candyman, which was released in theaters 25 years ago today. In honor of the film’s anniversary, here are 15 things you might not have known about Candyman.

1. EDDIE MURPHY WAS CONSIDERED FOR THE LEAD.

Though the role of Candyman turned Tony Todd into a horror icon, he wasn’t the only actor in consideration for the film’s title role: Eddie Murphy was also reportedly a contender for the part. Though it’s unclear exactly why he wasn’t cast, sources have reported that it had to do with everything from his height (at 5 feet 9 inches, he wouldn’t seem nearly as intimidating as the 6-foot-5 Todd) to his salary demands.

2. AN UNEXPECTED PREGNANCY LANDED VIRGINIA MADSEN THE LEAD.

Virginia Madsen stars in 'Candyman'
PolyGram Filmed Entertainment

When asked by HorrorNewsNetwork about how she got the role of Helen in Candyman, Virginia Madsen shared that it was almost by accident: She was supposed to play Bernie, Helen’s friend and classmate, the role that eventually went to Kasi Lemmons.

“I was actually very good friends with Bernard [Rose] and his wife Alexandra,” Madsen said. “She is a wonderful actress, who actually brought Clive Barker’s short story ‘The Forbidden’ to her husband. She thought this would be a great film, and he could direct her. She was supposed to be Helen. I was going to play [Kasi Lemmons'] part, until they made the character African American. Then I was out.

“Right before shooting, Alexandra found out she was pregnant. It was great for me, but it was so sad for her because this was her role; she found this story and really wanted it. So when I was asked to step in I felt like ‘I can’t take my friend’s role.’ She actually came over one day and said ‘It would just kill me to see someone else play this role, you have to be the one who plays it.’ So with her blessing I took on the role. I really tried to work my butt off just to honor her.”

3. IT COULD HAVE STARRED SANDRA BULLOCK.

On the film’s DVD commentary, producer Alan Poul said that had Madsen been unable to step into the role of Helen, the part would have likely been offered to Sandra Bullock, who was still a relative unknown actress at that point. Though she had played the role of Tess McGill in the television adaptation of Working Girl, she was still a couple of years away from Speed (1994), the role that launched her into stardom.

4. ITS OPENING SHOT WAS GROUNDBREAKING.

The film’s opening credits feature a great aerial view of Chicago, which was pretty revolutionary for its time. “We did that with an incredible new machine called the Skycam, which can shoot up to a 500mm lens with no vibration,” Rose told The Independent. “You've never seen that shot before, at least not done that smoothly.”

5. NOT ALL OF THE FILM’S CREEPY DETAILS SPRUNG FROM CLIVE BARKER’S IMAGINATION.

While investigating one of Candyman’s crime scenes, Helen and Bernie discover that the design of the apartment’s medicine cabinet made it a possible point of entry for an intruder. This was not a made-up piece of horror movie fiction. While researching the film, Rose learned that a series of murders had been committed in Chicago in this very way.

6. BERNARD ROSE SEES CANDYMAN AS A ROMANTIC FIGURE.

Tony Todd stars in 'Candyman'
PolyGram Filmed Entertainment

Viewers may think of Candyman as one of the horror genre’s most terrifying villains, but Rose said that “the idea always was that he was kind of a romantic figure. And again, romantic in sort of the Edgar Allan Poe sense—it's the romance of death. He's a ghost, and he's also the resurrection of something that is kind of unspoken or unspeakable in American history, which is slavery, as well. So he's kind of come back and he's haunting what is the new version of the racial segregation in Chicago.

“And I think there's also something very seductive and very sweet and very romantic about him, and that's what makes him interesting. In the same way there is about Dracula. In the end, the Bogeyman is someone you want to surrender to. You're not just afraid of. There's a certain kind of joy in his seduction. And Tony was always so romantic. Tony ties him in so elegantly and is such a gentleman. He was wonderful.”

7. THE BEES IN THE FILM WERE BRED SPECIFICALLY TO APPEAR ONSCREEN.

No, that is not CGI! The bees that play a key role in Candyman are indeed real. So that they looked appropriately terrifying, but were less dangerous to the cast and crew, the filmmakers used newborn bees—they were just 12 hours old—so that they looked fully grown, but had less powerful stingers.

8. TONY TODD WAS STUNG 23 TIMES, AND GOT A BONUS EACH TIME IT HAPPENED.

Photo of Tony Todd in 'Candyman'
PolyGram Filmed Entertainment

In addition to allowing the filmmakers to cover his face with bees, Todd actually agreed to film a scene in which he had a mouthful of bees—and that, too, was all real. He told TMZ that he wore a dental dam to prevent any bees from sliding into his throat—which doesn’t mean that he didn’t suffer a sting or two … or 23, to be exact, over the course of three Candyman movies. Though it might have been worth it. “I had a great lawyer,” he told TMZ. “A thousand dollars a pop.”

9. THE BEES WEREN’T GREAT NEWS FOR MADSEN, EITHER.

Madsen, too, had to get up close and personal with those bees—a fact that almost forced her to pass on the role. “When Bernie was first asking me to do the role I said, ‘Well, I can’t. I’m allergic to bees,’” she told HorrorNewsNetwork. “He said ‘No you’re not allergic to bees, you’re just afraid.’ So I had to go to UCLA and get tested because he didn’t believe [me]. I was tested for every kind of venom. I was far more allergic to wasps. So he said, ‘We’ll just [have] paramedics there, it will be fine!’ You know actors, we’ll do anything for a paycheck! So fine, I’ll be covered with bees.

“So we a had a bee wrangler and he pretty much told us you can’t freak out around the bees, or be nervous, or swat at them, it would just aggravate them. They used baby bees on me. They can still sting you, but are less likely. When they put the bees on me it was crazy because they have fur. They felt like little Q-tips roaming around on me. Then you have pheromones on you, so they’re all in love with you and think you’re a giant queen. I really just had to go into this Zen sort of place and the takes were very short. What took the longest was getting the bees off of us. They had this tiny ‘bee vacuum,’ which wouldn’t harm the bees. After the scene where the bees were all over my face and my head, it took both Tony and I 45 minutes just to get the bees off. That’s when it became difficult to sit still. It was cool though, I felt like a total badass doing it.”

10. PHILIP GLASS COMPOSED THE SCORE, BUT WAS DISAPPOINTED IN THE MOVIE.

When Philip Glass signed on to compose the score for Candyman, he apparently envisioned the final film being something totally different. According to Rolling Stone, “What he'd presumed would be an artful version of Clive Barker's short story ‘The Forbidden’ had ended up, in his view, a low-budget slasher.” Glass was reportedly disappointed in the film, and felt that he had been manipulated. Still, the haunting music is considered a classic score—and Glass’s own view of it seems to have softened over time. “It has become a classic, so I still make money from that score, get checks every year,” he told Variety in 2014.

11. MANY OF THE FILM'S SCENES WERE SHOT AT CABRINI-GREEN.

In 2011, the last remaining high-rise in the Cabrini-Green housing project was demolished. Over the years, the property—which opened in 1942—gained a notorious reputation around the world for being a haven for violence, drugs, gangs, and other criminal activities. While the project’s real-life history weaves its way into the narrative of Candyman, it only makes sense that Rose would want to shoot there. Which he did. But in order to gain permission to shoot there, he had to agree to cast some of the residents as extras.

“I went to Chicago on a research trip to see where it could be done and I was shown around by some people from the Illinois Film Commission and they took me to Cabrini-Green,” Rose said. “And I spent some time there and I realized that this was an incredible arena for a horror movie because it was a place of such palpable fear. And rule number one when you're making a horror movie is set it somewhere frightening. And the fear of the urban housing project, it seemed to me, was actually totally irrational because you couldn't really be in that much danger. Yes, there was crime there, but people were actually afraid of driving past it. And there was such an aura of fear around the place and I thought that was really something interesting to look into because it's sort of a kind of fear that's at the heart of modern cities. And obviously, it's racially motivated, but more than that—it's poverty motivated.”

12. THE FILM’S PRODUCERS WERE WORRIED THAT THE FILM WOULD BE CONSIDERED RACIST.

During pre-production, Candyman’s producers began to worry that the film might draw criticism for being racist, given that its villain was black and it was largely set in an infamous housing project. “I had to go and have a whole set of meetings with the NAACP, because the producers were so worried,” Rose told The Independent. “And what they said to me when they'd read the script was 'Why are we even having this meeting? You know, this is just good fun.' Their argument was 'Why shouldn't a black actor be a ghost? Why shouldn't a black actor play Freddy Krueger or Hannibal Lecter? If you're saying that they can't be, it's really perverse. This is a horror movie.'”

13. STILL, SOME FILMMAKERS COMPLAINED THAT IT WAS RACIST.

In a 1992 story in the Chicago Tribune, some high-profile black filmmakers expressed their disappointment that the film seemed to perpetuate several racist stereotypes. “There’s no question that this film plays on white middle-class fears of black people,” director Carl Franklin (Out of Time, Devil in a Blue Dress) said. “It unabashedly uses racial stereotypes and destructive myths to create shock. I found it hokey and unsettling. It didn't work for me because I don’t share those fears, buy into those myths.”

Reginald Hudlin, who directed House Party, Boomerang, and Marshall, described the film as “worrisome,” though he didn’t want to speak on the record about his specific issues with the film. “I've gotten calls about [the movie], but I think I'm going to reserve comment,” he said. “Some of my friends are in it and I may someday want to work for TriStar.”

For Rose, those assessments may have been hard to hear, as his goal in adapting Barker’s story and directing it was to upend the myths about inner cities. “[T]he tradition of oral storytelling is very much alive, especially when it's a scary story,” he told The Independent. “And the biggest urban legend of all for me was the idea that there are places in cities where you do not go, because if you go in them something dreadful will happen—not to say that there isn't danger in ghettos and inner city areas, but the exaggerated fear of them is an urban myth.”

14. IT’S STILL THE ROLE THAT MADSEN IS MOST RECOGNIZED FOR (ESPECIALLY AT AIRPORTS).

Kasi Lemmons and Virginia Madsen in 'Candyman'
PolyGram Filmed Entertainment

Though she earned a Best Supporting Actress nomination in 2005 for Alexander Payne’s Sideways, in 2012 Madsen said that Candyman is still the role she is most recognized for—especially at airports.

“More people recognize me from that movie than anything I’ve done,” she told HorrorNewsNetwork. “It means a lot to me. It was after years of struggling. As an actor, you always want a film that’s annual, like It’s a Wonderful Life or A Christmas Story. I just love that I have a Halloween movie. Now it’s kind of legend this story. People have watched it since they were kids, and every Halloween it’s on, and they watch it now with their kids. That means a lot to me. The place I get recognized the most is the airport security for some reason. Every person in airport security has seen Candyman. Maybe it makes them a little afraid of me.”

15. THERE WAS AN ACTUAL CANDYMAN KILLER.

Though the Chicago-based legend of Candyman is a work of fiction, there was an actual serial killer known as “Candyman” or “The Candy Man.” Between 1970 and 1973, Dean Corll kidnapped, tortured, and murdered at least 28 young boys in the Houston area. Corll earned his sweet nickname from the fact that his family owned a candy factory.

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