Hal Hartley, Not So simple

Robert Avila May 13, 2007

Hal Hartley’s “The Unbelievable Truth” helped jumpstart the independent film movement in the U.S. almost 20 years ago. Hartley followed “Truth” with eight more features in the next ten years. Since then, changes in geography — yes, the quintessential New York filmmaker doesn’t live in New York anymore — and work styles have put a little more distance between Hartley’s pieces and also given the director a chance to experiment with form, as he tells Robert Avila in this wide-ranging interview (the first of two parts) conducted during his visit to San Francisco for SFIFF50. Hartley and his wife, designer and actress Miho Nikaido, have been Berlin-based for the past several years now. Because they share a distributor and leading actress, Hartley and Zoe Cassavettes (“Broken English”) have been traveling on an overlapping promotional tour, which began at Sundance and touched down in San Francisco last week. His film, “Fay Grim,” opens Bay Area theaters May 18, at which point SF360.org will be featuring more of this interview.

SF360: Do you see a lot of Hollywood movies? I was curious what you were reading and seeing these days.

Hal Hartley: In Berlin I go to a rental place. It’s just amazing how people all over the world watch American movies, mainstream movies. So it gives me an opportunity to catch up on things — movies that I probably would not go to a movie theater to see. They’re not that special to me, I don’t have that much anticipation, but I do want to know what’s going on.

SF360: What have you seen lately?

Hartley: I saw, oh, they call it ‘High School Confidential’ over there. It’s the one about Evan Rachel Wood in high school. Oh god, what’s it called here? It’s a satire, real dark, these high school girls who fake a sexual harassment thing on a teacher. ‘Pretty Persuasion!’ I thought that was pretty good. The writing was pretty good. And this girl, who was very young, who had been Rachel Wood [Kimberly Joyce