Ted Leonsis, the AOL vice chairman, self-styled 'filmanthropist' and producer of Nanking and Kicking It has launched the online destination and documentary distributor SnagFilms.

The site enables film-makers to sidestep the perilous arena of traditional distribution by offering an alternative platform that allows viewers to stream films or share them on social networking and other websites for free. Leonsis owns the company with Revolution LLC chairman Steve Case and venture capitalist Miles Gilburne.

Starting immediately, SnagFilms users will get access to a pool of 225 titles - rising to 400 by mid-August - including films with distribution like Morgan Spurlock's 2004 Oscar nominee Super Size Me as well as lesser known work.

The site's signature feature will allow viewers to 'snag' a film and move it to their MySpace or Facebook page or indeed any website using a virtual theatre widget. This viral distribution tool can be reused to move a film from any site that carries the widget. Viewers can also buy DVDs and donate to charitable causes linked to the subject matter of a film.

Approximately 90 seconds of advertisements will play in 15-second stretches for every hour of film. SnagFilms will split advertising revenues equally with film-makers every time a film is played on the site or on any site carrying the virtual theatre widget.

The site uses AOL's latest media player and does not require downloads, sign-ups or waiting time. Services include film synopses, blogs, news and a list of recommendations that accrue as users develop viewing profiles.

Content partners so far include Palm Pictures, Red Envelope Entertainment, Koch Lorber Films, PBS, Arts Alliance America and the United Nations, among others.

The library, which Leonsis and CEO Rick Allen are keen to expand into the tens of thousands, include Suroosh Alvi and Eddy Moretti's Baghdad, Elliot Berlin and Joe Fab's Paper Clips, Randall Miller's Class Act and Stephanie Black's Africa Unite.

'There has never been a time when so many high quality socially relevant documentary films have been made, yet even though tens of thousands of documentaries are submitted to film festivals every year, only a handful find theatrical distribution,' Leonsis said.

'SnagFilms was created so that anyone who has a website, publishes a blog, or participates in a social network can open an online multiplex theatre, giving others an opportunity to watch one or more of the films we'll stream, to distribute these films by snagging them for their own sites, and to support the causes promoted by these films by linking to participating nonprofits.'

In a related development SnagFilms has acquired the New York-basedonline magazine IndieWIRE, which will provide news and archival content.