By Nigel M Smith | Indiewire April 12, 2011 at 12:09PM
indieWIRE's Small Screen is now Small Screens, revamped to include new VOD releases. Have suggestions? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
DVD/Blu-ray Top Pick:
Title: "White Material"
Director: Claire Denis
The Deal: Anything French screen icon Isabelle Huppert does is always worth a look. "White Material" marks her first collaboration with Claire Denis, the celebrated French auteur of such films as "Chocolat," "Beau Travail" and "35 Shots of Rum." In Denis' latest, set in an unnamed African country on the brink of civil war, Huppert plays Maria, a French farmer who struggles to keep her coffee plantation afloat amidst escalating violence. When her workers flee the plantation in fear of rebel soldiers, many of them children, Maria takes matters into her own hands.
"Of course, postcolonial critiques are not wholly unexpected in French art filmmaking, and neither are dramatizations of war-torn Africa from white perspectives uncommon," wrote Michael Koresky in his review of the drama for indieWIRE. "Yet with Claire Denis at the helm, this is hardly the same old story. While less abstract than many of her other works, “White Material” is similarly open-ended and purely experiential, and its way of playing with viewer identification with its protagonist is reminiscent of such works as “L’Intrus” and “I Can’t Sleep.” In this case, one might assume initially that the film’s strong Caucasian female lead is in some ways a surrogate both for its implicitly white audience and its, well, strong Caucasian female filmmaker. The growing disconnect we feel to the irrational, stubborn Maria, however, makes “White Material” a frustrating and illuminating experience."
Extras: New digital transfer, supervised and approved by Denis and cinematographer Yves Cape; new interviews with Denis and actors Huppert and Isaach de Bankolé; a short documentary by Denis on the film’s premiere at the 2010 Écrans Noirs Film Festival in Cameroon; deleted scenes; the theatrical trailer; a new and improved English subtitle translation; and a booklet featuring a new essay by film writer Amy Taubin.
VOD Picks for This Week:
All synopses courtesy distributors
Title: "An Invisible Sign"
Director: Marilyn Agrelo ("Mad Hot Ballroom")
The Deal: Mona Gray (Jessica Alba) is a 20-year-old loner who, as a child, turned to math for salvation after her father became ill. As an adult, Mona now teaches the subject and must help her students through their own crises.
Where to Find: IFC On Demand.
Title: "Hobo with a Shotgun"
Director: Jason Eisener
The Deal: A train pulls into the station - it's the end of the line. A Hobo jumps from a freight car, hoping for a fresh start in a new city. Instead, he finds himself trapped in an urban hell. This is a world where criminals rule the streets and Drake, the city's crime boss, reigns supreme alongside his sadistic murderous sons, Slick & Ivan.
Where to Find: Magnolia Pictures On Demand.
Title: "Playing Columbine"
Director: Danny Ledone
The Deal: Made on a shoestring budget with entry-level middleware, "Super Columbine Massacre RPG!" has easily provoked more debate and discussion than one could imagine a 16-bit role-playing game ever would. In the documentary film "Playing Columbine: a true story of videogame controversy," the history of the game is traced back to its inception, through the 2006 shooting at Dawson College in which the game was singled out by the media as a "murder simulator" that "trained" the shooter, and finally the game's removal from the list of finalists at the Slamdance 2007 Guerrilla Gamemaker Competition - prompting half the entries and a sponsor to pull out of the festival in protest.
Where to Find: FilmBuff.
Title: "Yodok Stories"
Director: Andrzej Fidyk ("Belarusian Waltz")
The Deal: The film Yodok Story follows a 36-year-old North Korean defector, Jung Sung San, who has managed to escape through China to South Korea. He is one out of nine people who have escaped the camps and managed to flee to “safety” in Seoul. Here he organizes a controversial theatre play about his experiences as prisoner in the concentration camp Yodok in North Korea.
Where to Find: SnagFilms.