Winnipeg Public Library launches free movie streaming service

Winnipeggers now have access to thousands of classic movies, documentaries and independent films for free with their library card.

More than 30,000 films, documentaries available for free streaming for library users via Kanopy service

The online streaming service Kanopy is now available to library card holders in Winnipeg. (courtesy Kanopy)

Winnipeggers now have access to thousands of classic movies, documentaries and independent films for free with their library card.

On Friday, the Winnipeg Public Library became the latest Canadian library system to partner with the online streaming service Kanopy.

The San Francisco-based company offers a catalogue of more than 30,000 titles, and has already partnered with libraries in several other Canadian cities.

Under the Winnipeg Public Library's contact, cardholders are allowed to stream five films per month on devices like Apple TV, Roku, Android and on the Kanopy website. Viewers have 72 hours to finish each film.

"We've been receiving quite a bit of demand to offer the Kanopy service. I'm hoping that it will be very popular," said Barbara Bourrier-LaCroix, administrative co-ordinator for virtual services at Winnipeg Public Library, on Thursday.

Demand for the service was up, she said, because Kanopy offers movies that can be hard to find — like Oscar-nominated short films and foreign-language movies. (For ideas on what to watch, former Winnipegger and Hollywood producer Rachel Shane compiled a list of her top-five must-see movies for CBC.)

Barbara Bourrier-LaCroix, administrative co-ordinator for virtual services for the Winnipeg Public Library, said demand has been growing among library users for access to Kanopy. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

When Kanopy CEO Olivia Humphrey founded the company in 2008, she originally partnered with university libraries to increase the number of titles available to students.

"A lot of these films were world cinema, art house, a lot of documentary film," she said. "I was looking at new sales channels, thinking 'where could these films find a home?'"

After the service caught on with students, she expanded Kanopy to include contracts with public libraries. Today, Kanopy has deals with 200 public libraries in the United States and several in Canada, including libraries in Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa and Vancouver Island.

Even with the proliferation of online streaming services like Netflix, iTunes and Crave, Humphrey said Kanopy tends to go after films and videos other companies overlook.

"A lot of the big streaming platforms have ended up focusing on the blockbusters at the expense of a lot of films we specialize in."

Celebrating niche content

While the site offers some more mainstream hits, like the Oscar-nominated documentary I Am Not Your Negro and well-known classics like Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator, much of the content is more obscure — rare films normally only seen by film students, independent documentaries and even instructional videos. 

"We really celebrate that we have a whole bunch of niche content," said Humphrey. "For us nothing is too small."

Gregory Klymkiw, executive director of the Winnipeg Film Group, said it's "very exciting" to have access to films that are hard to find in stores, online or in cinemas.

Winnipeg Public Libraries became the latest Canadian library to partner with online streaming service Kanopy. Winnipeggers will now have access to thousands of classic movies, documentaries and independent films for free with their library card. 0:27

"It's getting to a point where streaming is the only way people will have a chance to access this kind of film," said Klymkiw.

While he is optimistic about Kanopy, he does not want to see it come at the expense of the Winnipeg Public Library's investment in physical media.

"The Winnipeg Public Library in actuality, I'm absolutely delighted to say, has one of the best selections of Blu-rays and DVDs that I've, frankly, ever encountered," he said.

"I really hope they don't use this streaming service as an excuse to start getting rid of their library."

Bourrier-LaCroix said just as e-books have not replaced Winnipeg Public Library's book collection, the library does not plan to scale back its physical collection of movies now that it has a contract with Kanopy.

Winnipeg Public Library pays a fee every time a borrower streams a Kanopy movie, which is then evenly split between the filmmaker and the streaming company.


Kanopy asked Rachel Shane, a Hollywood producer who grew up in Winnipeg's North End and attended the University of Manitoba, to curate a list of her top five favourite films on the site for CBC.

Shane, chief creative officer at MWM Studios, produced the 10-time Emmy-nominated television series Genius, the Academy Award-nominated film Hell or High Water and the 2017 film Landline, which starred Jenny Slate, Edie Falco and John Turturro.

  • Metropolis"The first time seeing this film was an utter revelation," Shane writes of the 1927 Fritz Lang film, considered an early science-fiction masterpiece. "It's a wonder that a film so prescient, stark and symbolic was made in the same year as my Los Angeles bungalow, as well as the first true Winnipeg airfield (1927). The high drama of its score, costumes and set design is indelible. Georgio Maroder's Metropolis, also featured on Kanopy, is a great companion piece."
  • A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night: "Mind blowing, rule breaking, and visually stunning in black and white, the vampire genre is broken open in Ana Lily Amirpour's first feature film," Shane says of the 2014 Persian-language movie. "Hiring women behind and in front of the camera, while focusing on stories from a female perspective is one of my bigger agendas, and Amirpour is a prime example of mad female talent behind the camera."
  • Saturday Church: "In working with writer/director Rebecca Miller, I had the pleasure of collaborating with her producing partner at Round Films, Damon Cardasis. This heartfelt, modern musical debut about the trans community in New York was lauded by the likes of the New York Times and major musicians, including Sia," writes Shane of this 2017 film.
  • Breathless"Jean Luc-Godard's masterpiece told a cinematic story from a brand new lens and helped launch the French New Wave," when it was released in 1960, Shane says. "Godard smashed convention here, and his imagery and conflict of character is still resonant today."
  • Keyhole: "The first film I ever worked on (as a day set painter) was another of [Winnipeg director] Guy Maddin's works, Twilight of the Ice Nymphs. As the god of experimental cinema, Maddin's filmic stamp is never more apparent than in this dreamy, noir-horror. Mesmerizing to view, the film is shot digitally," said Shane.

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