Huffpost Arts
Alexandra Marvar Headshot

A Conversation with Hal Hartley

Posted: Updated:

Hal Hartley has been making films for more than twenty years. In the back corner of Café Le Monde on 112th Street, not far from the office of his company Possible Films, he acknowledges this with bemused amazement. In 1989, his first full-length The Unbelievable Truth commenced a career of American stories, their comedy muted and shadowy, singular for offbeat dialogue stitched with deadpan meditations on life's universal themes. In the past decade, Hartley brought the action up a notch, reaching into some intense new narrative realms: philosophical monster drama, social-commentary sci-fi, and the unexpected sequel to Henry Fool -- a spy thriller. But the project presently occupying Possible Films is a return to something simpler: a contemplative, hour-long featurette called Meanwhile.

"Spare, very carefully crafted, and poetic," Meanwhile follows Joe Fulton (DJ Mendell), a New Yorker too 'do-gooder' for his own good, from the bottom of Manhattan to the top in a day-long Gotham Odyssey. Complete but for the audio mix and "the various materials needed for commercial exploitation," Possible Films launched a project on Kickstarter (you know, that buzzy crowd-funding website that's helping make art financially feasible again). Kickstarter backers can essentially purchase the DVD of Meanwhile in advance, thereby funding the project's completion. Within ten days of the project's launch, Hartley's worldwide fanbase pledged the entirety of its $40,000 goal, and then some, and supporters can continue to climb on board through December 1.

Below are excerpts from a conversation with Hartley that encompassed Meanwhile, the evolution of Williamsburg, literary influences, catholic breakdowns, American gun laws, Simone Weil, and more. Read these answers in context in the complete interview at

On the Kickstarter paradigm:
To tell you the truth, Kickstarter has a lot in common with the way I used to finance my films in the '90s ... I've just looked at it as a different way of doing commerce. If you read the information on [Kickstarter's] website, they're interested in the concept of this new way of doing commerce. Though, it's funny, I hesitate to call it "new." It's actually kind of medieval. When a farmer walks into town -- you're a baker, I'm a farmer, you have a bakery, I have a field of wheat, I think we can do business together. It's sort of that direct. Back to the Renaissance, before the invention of capitalism, without speculation coming into it. There's a certain amount of risk, but not really speculation. I appreciate that.

On the new project, Meanwhile:
Narratively, it's simpler. Particularly after the The Girl from Monday [2005] and Fay Grim [2006], which were exercises in hyper-compacted information. Confusion and doubt were really essential to the core of those. And my mind was burnt out. And I said, "When I finish this one I'm going to make a movie that's really simple, just about a guy walking from one place to the other." In fact, Meanwhile is more complex than that, but it does follow this man walking up and down Manhattan. It's about relationships, meant to reflect the different kinds of relationships a middle-aged man would have, particularly in relation to success and accomplishment.

On finding great subject matter in daily life's little catastrophes:
[Meanwhile] is highly formalized like my work generally is, but I didn't want to reach too far for subject matter. The years I spent in Berlin, I made a lot of short films that were like that: Just write about what happens every single day — the simplest, most mundane, quotidian events. Which for me in Berlin was like going to the supermarket, practicing my German with the polish ladies who were cashiers, also trying to learn German — these little catastrophes. But if you're alert to the world in a certain way, great subject matter is always there. You don't have to invent it. Just note it. And put it in a line. Meanwhile is my most full expression of that.

On his characteristically philosophical dialogue:
Once in a while, I want to crack the façade of the seemingly naturalistic, fictive dream that's happening and get right to the heart of the matter. You know, we might have a conversation for an hour about stuff when we're actually walking all around the subject, but in fiction you might just have the characters say, "What is the meaning of life?" ... Ideally, it's funnier and more surprisingly expressed than that.

On writing particular kinds of pathos:
There's a big argument between the brothers in Simple Men [1992]. They're in this empty café at night and they're drunk. The fight becomes about their father, their mother, politics, the law, and you know, that doesn't come from nowhere. That comes from being a young person who's trying to make sense of the world, but not knowing a lot about the world -- there's this particular kind of pathos you can achieve there. You have to be honest and write down on the page the not knowing, the characters aren't knowing; they're just not knowing, and you have to trust your gut that it seems human.

Read the complete interview on, visit Meanwhile on Kickstarter, and watch Meanwhile's Kickstarter video below: