Please explain what just happened.

The psycho-killer crack-head downstairs just finished screaming and slamming his apartment door repeatedly.


What is your earliest memory?

Me and my cousin Brian not being able to finish a puzzle in kindergarten before it was time to go home. So we just piled all the pieces on the board and returned it to where the puzzles were supposed to go. But we got caught and had to stay and finish it.


If you weren’t a writer, director, producer, and composer, what other profession would you choose?

Husbandry— 1) the management and conservation of resources; 2) the care and cultivation of crops (including trees). I think I’m ready. I like a well tended forest.


Describe a typical work day.

6 a.m.: Make coffee. Check email. Turn off email. Do what creative work I’ve set for the day. Noon: Make more coffee and toast bread. Check email. Turn off email and pay bills. Study budgets and proposed schedules of projects not yet in existence. Make and receive phone calls about nonexistent projects. From 3 to 4, find a date for supper. Around 6, supper.



Is there a time you wish you’d lied?

Yes, very definitely. I won’t discuss it. But being perfectly forthcoming and open was a mistake and hurt someone who didn’t need to be hurt.


What would you say to yourself if you could go back in time and have a conversation with yourself at age thirteen?

Don’t worry about being skinny. Trust me, sooner or later the girls are gonna love you for the very thing you’re shy about now—being skinny. Come to think of it, stay shy. Girls like that too. And remember, Dad’s 43. He’s hardly grown up yet either and he’s as frightened as you are.



If you could have only one album to get you through a breakup, what would it be?

Probably something by Frank Zappa, since he didn’t like love songs and love songs would be the worst thing to have around at a time like that. The more instrumental the better.


What are three websites—other than your email—that you check on a daily basis?

xe.com — (currency exchange rates).
imdb — (to see who’s still famous).
my bank — (to see if I’m still in business).


From what or whom do you derive your greatest inspiration?

Novels and novelists, generally.



Name three books that have impacted your life.

Moliere’s The Misanthrope and Tartuffe, translated by Richard Wilbur.
Narcissus and Goldmund, by Hermann Hesse.
Young Man Luther: A Study in Psychoanalysis and History, by Erik H. Erikson.


If you could relive one moment over and over again, what would it be?

That’s X-rated. But it was late one night in my loft on Chambers Street in New York in the early months of 1992.


How are you six degrees from Kevin Bacon?

Met his wife recently at a party. Sat across from him on a plane to Sundance once…



What makes you feel most guilty?

Talking loudly about things I know little about.


How do you incorporate the work of other artists into your own?

I think by just responding. When something moves me it stays with me—probably because it is already something that I’m deeply concerned about but haven’t been able to articulate. And then when someone else manages to articulate it, I see a way forward, a way (if I’m lucky) to craft another, necessarily different, expression of that reality the other has gotten me a glimpse of. Something like that.


Please explain the motivation/inspiration behind Meanwhile.

I’ve been trying to make movies that are made out of the most common everyday experiences as my friends, acquaintances, and I experience them. Nothing spectacular. But trying to find the drama and comedy in that without being either stupidly reductionist or sentimentally excessive.



What is the best advice you’ve ever given to someone else?

Something someone else told me: “To not lie—don’t say what you don’t mean.”


List your favorite in the following categories:  Comedian, Musician, Author, Actor.

Buster Keaton.
David Bowie.
Jimmy Stewart.


If you had complete creative license and an unlimited budget, what would your next project be?

A six-hour mini series about a family like mine in the early seventies.




What do you want to know?

At what point does the violent behavior of the psycho-killer crack-head cause the authorities to remove him from the building.


What would you like your last words to be?

“Okay, let’s do it.”


Please explain what will happen.

The psycho-killer crack-head will attack someone and the police will arrive too late and not know how to fill out the appropriate forms.


Born in 1959, HAL HARTLEY attended school in his hometown of Lindenhurst, New York before going to Boston in 1978 to study art. He left art school after a year and was accepted to the State University of New York at Purchase and studied there from 1980 till 1984. His most recent feature film, Fay Grim, was released in 2007 and premiered at the Berlin and Sundance Film Festivals. In the meantime, his newest collection of short films, Possible Films 2 (made primarily in Berlin where he lived for four years) was released worldwide in April 2010 on DVD and digitally from his online retail website possiblefilms.com.

His other films include: Simple Men (Official Selection at Cannes in 1992), Flirt (1996), The Book of Life (1998), and No Such Thing (2001). He has won awards at the Sundance Film Festival for his film Trust in 1991, the Tokyo International Film Festival for Amateur in 1994, the Cannes International Film Festival for Henry Fool in 1998, and the “Premi Noves Visions” award at the Sitges International Film Festival in Spain for The Girl From Monday in 2005. There have been retrospectives of his work in Rotterdam, Spain, New York, Norway, Korea, and Poland. Hartley is an alumni of the American Academy in Berlin. He was a lecturer at Harvard University from 2001 till 2004. He was made a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des lettres of the Republic of France in 1996. He lives in New York.

In Hartley’s most recent film Meanwhile, Joe Fulton (played by DJ Mendel) is a man who can do anything, from fixing your sink to arranging international financing for a construction project. He produces online advertising, and he’s written a big fat novel. He’s also a pretty good drummer. But success eludes him. Having just broken up with his girlfriend in Brooklyn, Joe walks over the Brooklyn Bridge to Manhattan and has a troubling encounter with a woman whom he suspects might jump. As he goes about his day, taking care of his own business and helping various strangers with their everyday hassles, he hears on the radio that someone has, in fact, jumped from the Brooklyn Bridge. With his bank account temporarily frozen on account of unpaid taxes, he must traverse the entire length of Manhattan to get the keys to a friend’s apartment, giving away the few dollars he has along the way. Is Joe Fulton responsible and selfless to a fault? Maybe. He is certainly the all-time hardest working unsuccessful over-achiever in New York.

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TNB's ARTS & CULTURE section features essays, reviews, and interviews in the world of film, television, visual, comedy, and theater arts. Cynthia Hawkins serves as our Arts & Culture Editor.

2 responses to “21 Questions with Hal Hartley”

  1. I love Hal Hartley. Thanks for the interview. Please more interviews with directors or anyone related to film. Peace.

  2. TNB has snagged some people whose work has really meant a lot to me; Poe Ballantine, Mike Doughty, and now Hal Hartley. I recently revisited The Unbelievable Truth and Simple Men for the first time since the ’90s. I thoroughly enjoyed them, for all the same reasons I loved them in the first place.

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