Building a Film Search Engine

Because I’ve been reading Alex Halavais’s fascinating book, Search Engine Society, I’ve been finding myself reflecting on the role that search engines play not only in how we look for information or what information we find but also in the very questions we ask about the world.  While search engines are a new phenomenon, he points out, it is becoming increasingly difficult to imagine life without them.  Yet, there are some things that search engines don’t do well.  They don’t always provide us with the best information or most interesting resources, and at least in my experience, they rarely do a good job of indexing video content, especially since most search engines focus on looking for keywords.

With that in mind, I’m incredibly intrigued by SpeedCine, a new video search tool launched by New York publicist Reid Rosefelt.  I learned about the tool, which is currently in its earliest stages of development, from Anne Thompson, who reports that SpeedCine “is a database, not a crawling search engine,” a decision the creators made in order to avoid leading viewers to illegally uploaded films.  Instead, the site focuses on bringing users to legally uploaded versions of films, available on both free and pay sites. It also introduces you to a wide array of options. Instead of searching separately in two or three sites for an available copy of the film, SpeedCine searches across multiple sites providing links to the film wherever it might be available.

Like Thompson, I tried a number of searches on the demo version, which compiles about 150 films.  A search for the 1974 documentary, Waiting for Fidel, took me to a streaming version of the film on the National Film Board of Canada’s website. A search for Richard Linklater’s Slacker led to half a dozen streaming versions, including one on Hulu and another on YouTube, made available by the indie cinema group Cinetic.  Thompson’s search for Kicking It took her to SnagFilms (you could also watch instantly via Netflix if your membership in the rental service allowed).  During the demo phase, SpeedCine only has 150 films in their database, but that is in the process of changing.  The cool part, so far, seems to be the emphasis on indie films and documentaries.  This looks like an interesting service, one that could benefit independent filmmakers down the road, although given the site’s database structure, I am a little cautious to see what films will be included.  As Halavais’s book points out, search engines have participated in both promoting and discouraging diversity, so I’ll be interested to see whether SpeedCine can fulfill this promise.

Update: On a related note, Jim Quillen points to news that Google is working on a voice search for video, which would “allow their search engines to recognize and index the audio portions of online videos.”  In an interview with Charlie Rose, Google VP Marissa Mayer also added that Google would like to index images, but that the technology is several years away.


  1. Reid Rosefelt Said,

    March 12, 2009 @ 12:35 pm


    Our intention is to have every single legal feature film on the web available for downloading and streaming on SpeedCine. We want people to feel confident that if they don’t find it on SpeedCine–it simply isn’t available that way.

    The reason you see so many independent films on the demo site is that I wanted to include every website I could find, and many of these sites specialize in titles like that. I’ll take a look at it though, I was trying to put a diverse range in there, from exploitation movies to children’s films to whatever.

  2. Chuck Said,

    March 12, 2009 @ 12:43 pm

    Hi Reid, thanks for leaving a comment. I actually think that it’s incredibly positive to see so many independent films being represented here and hope that SpeedCine can help foster the growing web-based indie film distribution culture.

    Certainly your overall goal of providing one-stop access to all legally available films online is laudable, and down the road, it will be incredibly helpful in my Intro to Film courses when I want to point students to films that may otherwise be hard to find. I think the range you’ve provided simply shows the amazing range of indie and documentary films already out there.

    If you happen to stop back by, I’d be curious to know if your database will include films from I didn’t look carefully to see whether that was listed among SpeedCine options, but there is obviously a lot of great material there.

  3. Second Cinema Said,

    March 12, 2009 @ 12:49 pm

    Very good post…search engines most certainly direct, or shape our views by allowing what we can and can not see easily, Google has more power than people want to admit…SpeedCine sounds like a good idea in theory (and it’s demo)…hopefully it will meet it’s goal…

  4. Second Cinema Said,

    March 12, 2009 @ 1:31 pm

    Just wanted to let you know that this post has just spawned a lengthy conversation…my mind’s wiped…

  5. Chuck Said,

    March 12, 2009 @ 1:34 pm

    Yeah, Alex’s book has been helpful for me in articulating or rethinking some of the concerns about Google. Like you, I hope that SpeedCine will fulfill the goal it has set for itself. Excited to know that this post sparked such a conversation!

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