Indefinable happiness of doing the interview: Hal Hartley

Hartley told about how a big fool Henry Fool is, how superficially intellect is used in mainstream culture and his favorite from his own filmography in short and clear sentences, and doubled our admiration for him.

Interview By Melikşah Altuntaş, Uğur Bayazıt, Müge Yıldız – Illustration By Mert Tügen

You’ve probably noticed a couple of movies, bands, musicians or directors in these pages whose works are held dear and obsessively fallen for by the vast majority of BantMag. team. Our passion for Hal Hartley, is one of the top names in the list. In addition to writing, directing and composing scores of numerous movies which underpin our 90s nostalgia, Hartley comes across genuinely intriguing and admirable. When we got the chance in April to interview Hal Hartley, no stranger to the pages of Bant Mag., we ignored the fact we’d recently featured him and took a dive into a question and answer session, As is every interviewer’s nightmare, he gave short answers. Sure we would have prefered a longer, more in depth conversation, but who knows? Maybe someday this dream will also come true. (Our executive editor Aylin Güngör actually made that happen many years ago and even got a video recording of the meeting but lost it afterwards.) Still we are grateful for what we did get.

We know that making a trilogy wasn’t the initial plan when you were shooting Henry Fool. When and how did the idea of making this a trilogy, first occur?
I wanted to make a movie with Parker Posey—Fay Grim. So then I thought I’d have to make a third film. I loved this gang of criminals we invented.

When we consider the finale of this trilogy, which took 18 years, we realize the hero(in)es of your stories have come a long way. Fay has put away her rush and ambition and she seems more accepting in general. Her son Ned is a determined and reasonable person. Only Henry, as if it was 18 years ago, wants to run away and disappear… He advises his son likewise too. What makes him so intolerant and desperate?
He’s an idiot. He’s incapable of growing up, evolving, or accomplishing anything. But his talent at bullshit manages to inspire others to make efforts that matter. That’s the point of Henry.

In the film, Susan is a master’s student who has been studying the poems of Simon Grim and interested in the life of Fay Grim. I know the story behind adding Aubrey Plaza to the cast who plays Susan. I suppose, you and your cinema has been a subject to many theses, what can you say about this situation and the involvement of Aubrey Plaza?
Aubrey needed some work that wasn’t nonsense and I needed a talented actress to do what I do.

Considering the characters you create, when they talk, it may feel more like monologues rather than dialogues. Is this true for all your films from The Unbelievable Truth to Ned Rifle. What matters to you most when you make your characters speak? How does the dialogue writing process take place?
I want intelligence to be heard, seen. What I miss in mainstream culture (everywhere) is intelligence being represented impartially, respectfully, objectively. Stupidity, shallowness, and cynicism seems to be the only thing people are entertained by. In fact, it seems to be the only measure of something called “sincerity” or “authenticity.” But it’s just more advertising—masturbation. I need a greater kind of engagement with people.

Kickstarter supports make up a significant part of Ned Rifle’s budget. How has Kickstarter met your expectations? Is it going to continue to be an important alternative for supporting your future projects?
The entire film was financed by Kickstarter crowd-sourcing. This is the only feasible way for artistic work to be made now.

You have always chosen independent ways to to get your films to their audiences. You are in charge of the distribution of Ned Rifle too. In your opinion, don’t you think it matters how and in which format the audiences watch your films?
Not really. I get lots of mail from people who have been moved by my films in movie theaters, of course. But mostly people see them on DVD and online. And those people are very moved too. These days, I try to make movies understanding that most people watch films on their computers and tablets.

Do you prefer not to go back to 35 mm film as an artistic decision? Or is the high costs of it still an issue?
HD is the natural and much appreciated evolution of motion picture production. I am terribly happy not to have to deal with film anymore!

Do you have a personal favorite among your films?

You wrote almost all the songs yourself to your films. How does the music making process work for you? Does the music come as you are making the film? Or do you work on the music after you are done with the film?
Most of the time I write the music once the film is edited. But I often have melodies and harmonies I’ve already worked out.

Even though it’s your thing to create extraordinary characters and tell distinctive stories, we are curious if there’s a specific story/novel you would like to film?
I’ve written the life of Saint Paul, which is largely the New Testament book “The Acts of the Apostles.” If I could make this film I would be happy to retire and become a novelist.

Do you watch Louie? Louis C.K. sometimes feels like transferring your film-making to the television. What do you think about this subject?
I have watched all of Louie. I want to make work that is different from this. My own films are a pretty good indicator of what I would like to do.

Do you have favorites among the new generation independent filmmakers?

Ned Rifle brought a period of almost 20 years to an end. What are your current plans? What are you working on currently?
I’m writing episodic television-like entertainment.

You shot some parts of Fay Grim in İstanbul. And you have visited Turkey before during !f İstanbul Festival. There’s a wild scene of people here who have been following you since your earliest films. Would you consider coming back here again?
I love Istanbul. I have good friends there. I’m sorry I could not attend the Istanbul Film Festival with Ned Rifle. (But my producer and his wife did.) I was too busy traveling around the US for the release here.

(Translation by Cihan Uzunoğlu)