The following post contains a list of several places to check out documenary shorts online. While you can find some for monthly subscription on Netflix, Amazon, and others, this list includes more curated shorts that represent a variety of styles, subjects, and intentions. Everything listed here is presented in English, either through speaking or subtitles. Everything is also free to watch.
Special thanks to Tim Horsburgh, director of Communications and Distribution at Kartemquin Films, for single-handedly doubling the first draft of this list.
The Op-Docs series brings together diverse shorts under this branded umbrella through The New York Times. To avoid the paper’s aggressive demands for signing in, check out the YouTube playlist, though do note that it hasn’t been updated since July 2019.
Established in 2003, StoryCorps is a celebration and reminder of our shared humanity. Interviews with a wide variety of people provide the foundations for the produced and shared stories. StoryCorps also offers an app.
Great Big Story
Owned by CNN Worldwide, Great Big Story gathers short videos of stories from more than 100 countries around the world. Stories intentionally address the curious and the overlooked. They also tend to be more upbeat than other documentary shorts. Great Big Story also offers an app.
NowThis focuses on current events and contexts to provide more depth in international news. In some videos NowThis uses a distinct visual style, including English-language titles with no voiceover and few speaking parts. Videos also are available on YouTube.
The Guardian is a British newspaper that releases monthly documentary films about global and UK issues.
DW (Deutsche Welle) Documentary
Deutsche Welle is a German international broadcaster offering documentaries that range from the extraordinary of the everyday and the ordinary of the world around us. Videos also are available on YouTube.
National Geographic Short Film Showcase
Perhaps unsurprisingly, National Geographic’s Short Film Showcase centers on nature and science, with a good dose of wonder thrown in.
Al Jazeera English
Of all the sites listed here, Al Jazeera English truly delves into global issues and stories, reaching corners unavailable or overlooked by other media. Al Jazeera English also offers an app.
Pubcaster ARTE is a co-partnership of Germany and France, with funding from the European Union. Topics include politics, culture, history, sciences, and the arts.
POV (Point of View)
For more than 30 years, POV has shown documentaries with distinct points of view. The series offers streaming of both original shorts and broadcast documentaries on its site, at least for a limited time before subscription is required.
Another long-running PBS series, Frontline tackles weightier topics through documentaries of varying lengths. Example topics include immigration, war and conflict, climate and environment, and education.
National Film Board
The National Film Board of Canada has a long-established documentary unit that regularly features shorts on its website.
Field of Vision
Field of Vision is committed to the short form and its flexibility in investigating issues from around the world and across platforms. It was founded in 2013 by Laura Poitras and Charlotte Cook.
From the same company as Field of Vision, Topic addresses stories with impact through a range of storytelling, both fiction and nonfiction, both audio and video. Topic also offers a YouTube channel.
Short of the Week
While many of the other sites on this list produce in-house and support established filmmakers, Short of the Week supports emerging filmmakers. It dedicates an entire channel to documentary. The site also offers a YouTube channel.
The New Yorker
Respected magazine The New Yorker curates its own series of short films.
The Atlantic is another respected magazine that has its own series of short films.
Billing itself as “The Definitive Guide to Enlightening Information,” Vice covers the serious, such as a macaroni-and-cheese addiction and eating disorders, and the silly, such as regular farting.
What is missing from this list? Leave your suggestions in the comments below or Tweet me on Twitter.