The Penn Libraries now offers students, faculty, and staff access to two new streaming film and video platforms, Projectr EDU and Docuseek. Both platforms feature quality documentary and narrative films from several leading independent distributors, enhancing the number of acclaimed, engaging films available to members of the Penn community for on-demand viewing.
Projectr EDU is a brand-new streaming service that debuted in the fall of 2021. Its catalog features many filmmakers from underrepresented communities and includes a variety of celebrated, vibrant, lushly produced independent and international films from the distributors Grasshopper Film, Canyon Cinema, and MTV Documentary Films. This gives users access to the work of international auteur filmmakers such as Bong Joon Ho, Claire Denis, Hong Sangsoo, and Pedro Costa.
One notable film on the platform is the Academy Award-nominated film for Best Documentary Feature, Jessica Kingdon’s 2021 Ascension, which showcases the modern-day “Chinese Dream.” The film explores consumerism, production, capitalist excess, and waste. Beginning with factory workers, the narrative takes viewers on a journey up the ascending social ladder from the working class, to the middle class, and finally to the hedonistic elite. Critics have described the film as enthralling, engrossing, and alarming.
Another film available through Projectr EDU is the much-heralded Black Mother, a 2018 documentary by Jamaican-American filmmaker Khalik Allah, who is also known for his cinematography work on Beyoncé’s film and visual album Lemonade. The film takes the viewer on an earthy, immersive trip through contemporary Jamaica, showcasing its subjects through visual collages and voiceover, and highlighting the country’s history, spirituality, and its people’s modern realities of poverty and struggle.
An Oscar nominee for Best Documentary Feature from 2018, Last Men in Aleppo, from Syrian director Feras Fayyad, paints a picture of life during wartime in Aleppo, an ancient, culturally and strategically significant city in northwestern Syria. The film follows a non-partisan group called the White Helmets, or the Syria Civil Defense, which conducts medical evacuations and urban search-and-rescue missions with the ongoing conflict as a backdrop. While a huge portion of Aleppo’s population has had to flee the military strikes by forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad, Fayyad’s film depicts ordinary citizens who have stayed behind to protect others who have chosen to stay and live amid the chaos of a city under continuing attack.
Projectr EDU features films like these and more that traditionally have found a home in arthouse cinema venues and theaters devoted to presenting new world cinema. Films available via Projectr EDU are not yet findable in the Penn Libraries online catalog, but they will be soon. For now, Penn Libraries users can use their PennKey to search for films directly on the Projectr EDU website.
Docuseek debuted as a platform in 2012 and has significantly expanded its catalog of independent, social-issue, and environmental films in the last decade. Today it includes around 2,000 films from Bullfrog Films, Icarus Films, Kartemquin, KimStim, Film Movement, First Run Features, Women Make Movies, and more. Some of the more popular films on the Docuseek platform include documentaries that may be of interest to students of business, law, political science, history, or anthropology, such as Hot Coffee, The True Cost, and Abortion Helpline, This is Lisa.
Hot Coffee is a documentary about the notorious 1994 lawsuit Liebeck v. McDonald’s in which an 81-year-old woman spilled a to-go cup of coffee on herself that was so scaldingly hot that it caused third-degree burns. The film explores the way the media unfairly cast the case as emblematic of a justice system overburdened with frivolous lawsuits and examines how it influenced legal reforms that would limit consumer litigation and corporate accountability.
The True Cost, a 2015 documentary by Andrew Morgan, criticizes the apparel industry for its embrace of fast fashion. It explores the effects that the garment industry has on the environment, both in the countries where factories produce the clothing, and in the United States where the products are sold. Compared with decades past, the U.S. produces very little of the clothing that fashion chains sell domestically. The impacts of the industry have serious environmental, labor, and social consequences in the countries home to the factories that manufacture the apparel. The film examines how consumerism intersects with personal identity while leaving a huge stream of textile waste and pollution in its wake.
Docuseek also features the award-winning short film made in Philadelphia, Abortion Helpline, This is Lisa, which provides an inside view of an organization that helps adults and teenagers who are struggling to find and afford reproductive health care.
These resources complement a range of streaming film and video platforms in the Penn Libraries online collections, which includes Kanopy, Swank Digital Campus, Academic Video Online, Film Platform, and Artfilms-Digital. We continue to explore opportunities to expand the number of on-demand or licensed films that are available for course use, individual research, or entertainment.
If there are films or streaming platforms that you would like to see made available by the Penn Libraries, please suggest a purchase or feel free to reach out to Cinema and Media Studies Librarian, Charles Cobine.
The films discussed are listed below, along with other recommended films from Docuseek and Projectr EDU.
- Abortion Helpline, This is Lisa. Directed by Barbara Attie, Mike Attie, and Janet Goldwater. Attie & Goldwater Productions, 2019.
- Ascension. Directed by Jessica Kingdon. XTR, Firelight Media, Field of Vision, Cinereach, Chicken & Egg Productions, The Sundance Institute, and San Francisco Film Society, 2021.
- Beyoncé, Lemonade. Directed by Kahlil Joseph and Beyoncé Knowles, cinematography by Chayse Irvin, Khalik Allah, Pär Ekberg, Santiago González, Malik Sayeed, Dikayl Rimmash, and Reed Morano. Parkwood Entertainment and Columbia Records, 2016. CD (AppleMusic | Spotify).
- Black Mother. Directed by Khalik Allah. Cinereach, 2018.
- Hot Coffee. Directed by Susan Saladoff. Produced by Susan Saladoff, Carly Hugo, Alan Oxman, and co-produced by Rebecca Saladoff, 2011.
- Last Men in Aleppo. Directed by Feras Fayyad. Produced by Kareem Abeed and Søren Steen Jespersen, 2017.
- The True Cost. Directed by Andrew Morgan. Untold Creative and Life Is My Movie Entertainment, 2015.