Going Clear: Scientology And The Prison Of Belief, the Alex Gibney documentary about Scientology’s roots and its role in Hollywood, has been acquired for exclusive first-window VOD distribution by Vimeo. The film will appear through Vimeo On Demand beginning in September, after HBO’s holdback period ends following the doc’s broadcast there.

Going Clear movie imageThe deal for download-to-own rights is the latest in a series of high-profile VOD initiatives from Vimeo, which long positioned itself as a high-end alternative to YouTube’s vast firehose of ad-supported online videos featuring surfing squirrels and self-absorbed vloggers. About 16,000 titles with more than 50,000 episodes have posted videos on Vimeo that can be rented or bought. Unlike YouTube, Vimeo has no on-site advertising.

Vimeo launched its on-demand paywall system about 18 months ago and recently has announced deals on that part of the platform with New Form Digital Studios (backed by Ron Howard and Brian Grazer among others) and Disney-owned Maker Studios for original-content video series. It also has been more aggressively promoting existing original-content shows such as High Maintenance. 

Vimeo previously has sold a couple of features through the system, including Joss Whedon‘s In Your Eyes last year and more recently, Spike Lee‘s Da Sweet Blood Of Jesus, though neither project was conventionally created or distributed. With the latest announcement, however, Vimeo is signaling that it plans to be a regular player in the distribution of name-brand entertainment.

 “You’ll see much more activity from Vimeo in this area, I promise you,” said Sam Toles, Vimeo’s VP of content acquisitions and business development. “We are moving up the food chain. We are aggressively challenging traditional windows and trying to find a win for the creator. How does someone like Alex Gibney and his company maximize the opportunity” to reach wider audiences.

The film by Oscar winner Gibney debuted to tremendous acclaim at Sundance last month. It is based on the best-selling book of nearly the same name by Lawrence Wright. The Going Clear deal was concluded with Content Media Corporation.

Vimeo also has a distribution deal for Fresh Dressed, another hot documentary that debuted at Sundance, with CNN and Samuel Goldwyn Co. After that doc runs on CNN, it will be for sale on demand through Vimeo and available in a theatrical run, possibly simultaneously.