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Hal Hartley ’84

Popularly associated with the American independent filmmaking scene of the early 1990s, Hal Hartley ’84 is a filmmaker, writer, director, producer, and composer who has made twelve feature films since 1988.

He also wrote and directed No Such Thing (2001) for United Artists and Fay Grim (2006) for HD Net Films. Hartley has won numerous awards at Cannes and Sundance and has had his work shown in retrospectives around the world.

In the first decade of his career, Hartley established himself by making many films very quickly: The Unbelievable Truth (Nominated, 1990 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize), Trust (Winner, Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at the 1991 Sundance Film Festival), Surviving Desire (1991), Simple Men (Official Selection, 1992 Cannes Film Festival), Amateur (Official Selection, 1994 Cannes Director’s Fortnight; Winner, 1994 Tokyo International Film Festival Young Filmmakers Award), Flirt (1995), and Henry Fool (Winner, 1998 Cannes Film Festival Best Screenplay).

In 2004 Hartley moved to Berlin, where he made Henry Fool’s sequel, Fay Grim (Official Selection, 2006 Toronto International Film Festival; Winner, 2006 RiverRun International Film Festival Audience Choice Award). The distribution for his most recent release, Meanwhile (2012), was funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign.

A Novel Debut

Hartley wrote a television series script, which he turned into his debut novel. Kirkus Reviews named Our Lady of the Highway one of the Best Books of 2022.

Life After Purchase

After graduating, Hartley recalls, “I worked odd jobs in New York City, mostly in the film production business, and kept writing screenplays and making short films. I ran with a crowd of other Purchase graduates—filmmakers, actors, musicians, and visual artists.”

In 1988 Hartley made his first feature, The Unbelievable Truth. Hartley went on to describe his career trajectory: “It turned out to be modestly successful, was distributed worldwide, and established me as a professional filmmaker. I worked non-stop for the next ten years, making five more feature films and assorted shorter works for television.

“After 1998, I slowed down my film production work and investigated other fields: writing and staging my play Soon in Europe, studying computer technology, composing, and teaching at Harvard University for three years.”

In 2004 Hartley was offered a fellowship to the American Academy in Berlin. Hartley said, “After my four-month stay at the Academy, I settled in Berlin for five years. While there, I produced Fay Grim (2006) and the collection of short films called Possible Films 2 (2009), as well as staging the contemporary opera La Commedia by Dutch composer Louis Andriessen in Amsterdam (2008).”

In 2009 Hartley returned to New York City.

Hartley continues: “In these last ten years, I’ve made three new features, directed television episodes for Amazon, developed a few of my own (as yet unproduced) television series, and built an online retail distribution business selling my films worldwide. Though more films and episodic television projects are likely, I spend a lot more of my creative time these days writing fiction, essays, and making music.”

Looking Back at His Time at Purchase

“My main takeaway about Purchase is that I was lucky to have landed there,” Hartley says. “At twenty, I was still too immature, shy, and ignorant to learn much from the world at large. I would have been overwhelmed. Purchase provided me with an introduction to the world’s variety as well as helping me discover what my aspirations actually were.”