AOL releasing docus online as True Stories

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AOL is set to launch a new Web site Thursday that will distribute documentaries.

Dubbed AOL True Stories, the site will offer titles before theatrical release and between the theatrical and DVD windows as part of a larger film catalog offering.

The site's films, which will be available to stream, download-to-own and buy as a DVD, will accompany community forums where viewers can share their perspectives through blogs, live chats, message boards and video posting. Additionally, filmmakers can maintain a blog to communicate with viewers and provide in-depth profiles of different aspects of their film.

"We're launching this site as part of an overall strategy to create and grow niche audiences online," said Jordan Kurzweil, vp development and production at AOL programming. "We're hoping to create great conversation online where people will debate about films."

Many of the site's docus are familiar titles from film festivals, including this year's "Shadow Company," which provides a view inside the world of private security firms in Iraq, and the 1998 Oscar nominee "Waco: Rules of Engagement."

The online destination will launch with 20 titles. Kurzweil confirmed that two to three titles will launch each month before theatrical release, with that number eventually increasing to a dozen.

"With our initial approach of launching two to three films per month, it's our hope to become a platform for prerelease, but we're open to documentaries no matter what stage of release they're in," Kurzweil said. "Through raising awareness, we hope to breathe new life into DVD and digital distribution revenue and give filmmakers who haven't been able to find distribution a platform for that."

Kurzweil said revenue generated from 30-second ads at the beginning of a film or somewhere in its duration will be shared with distributors as well as filmmakers. Downloads will cost $1.99-$14.99, with the price being set by the owner of the film.

Those who want to buy a DVD can do so through links on the site that direct consumers to the film's distributor.

Other titles at launch include this year's "Danielson: A Family Movie," which opens theatrically this month in select theaters, and "The Ground Truth," which screened at the Sundance Film Festival in January and chronicles the challenges experienced by Iraq veterans faced with assimilating back into civilian life.
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