When Hal Hartley Took 'Fay Grim' to Berlin
Hal Hartley has arguably the closest connection to Berlin of any current American filmmaker.
This article first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's Berlin Issue on Feb. 6.
Hal Hartley has arguably the closest connection to Berlin of any current American filmmaker. In 2004, the New Yorker received a three-month writing fellowship from the American Academy in Berlin to work on a project centered on French educator and social activist Simone Weil. The experience evolved into the city becoming a second home. “I just felt more connected in Europe,” says Hartley, who’s now back living in New York City. “In 2008, I staged an opera in Amsterdam and preparing for that was one of the principal jobs I had during the five years I was in Berlin. Being in Europe was very important then and Berlin was very central.”
Hartley, 55, was born the son of an ironworker in Long Island, N.Y., where an early interest in painting led him to study at the Massachusetts College of Art. In 1980, he transferred to the State University of New York at Purchase’s filmmaking program where he studied under director-editor Aram Avakian, who was chairman of the film department in the last few years of his life. “He really taught me to write on the page so you’re prepared to do something excellent in the directing,” says Hartley. “He gave me the confidence to pursue a career as a director.”
His early films, including 1989’s The Unbelievable Truth, 1990’s Trust and 1992’s Simple Men, were shot in the U.S. But when it came to 2006’s Fay Grim, the sequel to Cannes screenplay winner Henry Fool (1997), about Simon Grim, a garbage man-turned-poet played by James Urbaniak, and his sister Fay, played by Parker Posey, parts were shot in Berlin.
“While I was in Berlin, I wrote a feature film I’d love to shoot called Wander,” says Hartley. “It’s really the movie I wanted to make before I left Germany. It expresses the feeling of an American lost in Berlin. So far, I’ve never been able to get financing. Ironically, what we shot in Berlin for Fay Grim were the interiors of what happens in Woodside, Queens.” Hartley’s trilogy about the siblings Grim concludes with Ned Rifle, screening in the Panorama section on Feb. 6.