A beginner's guide to Kanopy

The last time I searched for “classic movies” in Netflix I got less than 40 results, and many of the available titles weren’t exactly what I’d consider cinematic masterpieces.The outcome was hardly better when I searched for foreign films. And while Netflix has a decent selection of documentaries, the majority of the offerings are Netflix productions. I say all this not to disparage Netflix but to point out that, although streaming films and TV shows has never been easier, Netflix and the other major streaming platforms are by no means comprehensive in their selections. 

Enter Kanopy.

Like other streaming platforms, Kanopy offers thousands of movies and TV shows at your fingertips. Unlike most other streaming platforms, Kanopy offers a remarkable selection of classics, world cinema and documentaries, including films from the much-loved Criterion Collection. In short, Kanopy is the streaming platform for cinephiles, for the curious and the adventurous and for anyone who wants a break from the multiplex.

Best of all, Kanopy is free. All you need is an Anythink card. So let’s get started! (If you already have a Kanopy account, feel free to skip to the bottom, where I include some recommendations of what to stream on Kanopy.) 

  1. Visit the Kanopy website.
  2. Create an account with a name, email address and password.
  3. Once you enter your email address, Kanopy will send you a confirmation. Open your email inbox, select the message from Kanopy and click “confirm my email.” You will be redirected to the Kanopy website.
  4. Enter “Anythink” into the box that asks you to select your library.
  5. Finally, click on “Add library card” enter your Anythink library card number and select “save.” Once Kanopy confirms your number you’ll be taken to a page that explains the terms of use. Click on “watch now” to start streaming!
  6. You can also download the Kanopy app to your smart device, log in with your account information and then stream to a TV through either Google Chromecast or Apple AirPlay.

Now that you’re all signed up, here are some of my current favorite offerings on Kanopy.

Documentary: Life Itself (2014)

This moving, insightful, candid documentary chronicles the life and career of Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic Roger Ebert. Along with being a treat for cinephiles, Life itself is also a touching portrait of Ebert’s complicated friendship with fellow critic Gene Siskel, his two-decade marriage to his wife Chaz and his later years following the cancer treatment that left him unable to speak. Sad, funny and beautiful, this is one of the most affecting documentaries I’ve ever seen.

World Cinema: Lost in Paris (2016)

The most recent film from longtime collaborators (and spouses) Fiona Gordon and Dominique Abel, this French-language comedy feels like a collaboration between Wes Anderson, Jacques Tati and Charlie Chaplin. Gordon stars as a shy librarian who journeys to Paris to visit her elderly aunt. After taking a tumble into the Seine, her passport and wallet end up in the hands of a blithe tramp, played by Abel. Gordon and Abel are gifted physical comedians; in one memorable scene, Abel uses Gordon’s money to treat himself to dinner at a chic restaurant, only to be sat near a thumping speaker whose rhythmic pulses make Abel twitch in time to the beat. Unlike so many contemporary comedies, which aim either at either kids or adults, Lost in Paris operates at a level that can appeal to everyone.

Criterion Collection: Rashomon (1950)

These days it’s not that unusual to tell a story from multiple perspectives that contrast or outright contradict one another, but Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon was one of the first films to utilize this highly influential structure. Set in middle ages, Rashomon isn’t technically a samurai film like some of Kurosawa’s other masterpieces from the 50s and 60s, but rather a kind of medieval courtroom drama and mystery that centers around the murder of a samurai and the rape of his wife. Four witnesses are called to testify about what they saw of this crime, and none of their accounts entirely agree with one another. Rashomon is a provocative masterpiece, and its depiction of truth and human fallibility has only become more timely since its release nearly 70 years ago.