In­de­pen­dent? Boy, is he ever

Cine­fam­ily salutes Hal Hart­ley with a look at old fa­vorites and his new film, ‘Ned Ri­fle.’

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Mark Olsen mark.olsen@la­times.com Twit­ter: @IndieFo­cus

Film­maker Hal Hart­ley de­ter­minedly goes his own way.

Film­mak­ers sim­ply don’t come much more in­de­pen­dent than Hal Hart­ley. In a ca­reer that stretches back more than 25 years, he has cre­ated sharp, lit­er­ate ex­plo­rations of mod­ern life al­most ex­clu­sively on his own dis­tinc­tive terms. Though to­day his name is not as well known as those of Richard Lin­klater or Steven Soder­bergh, the dry come­dies of Hart­ley were an es­sen­tial part of the Amer­i­can in­de­pen­dent scene of the ’80s and ’90s.

Start­ing Thurs­day night, L.A.’s Cine­fam­ily will be pre­sent­ing the first lo­cal ret­ro­spec­tive of Hart­ley’s spare, non-nat­u­ral­is­tic, moody work; run­ning through­out April, it in­cludes the fea­ture films “Henry Fool,” “Fay Grim,” “The Un­be­liev­able Truth,” “Trust,” “Sur­viv­ing De­sire,” “Sim­ple Men” and “The Book of Life.”

And on Fri­day night the theater will kick off the lo­cal the­atri­cal run for Hart­ley’s first fea­ture in eight years, “Ned Ri­fle.” The third part of a tril­ogy, the new film is al­ready avail­able dig­i­tally via on­line video plat­form Vimeo.

Hart­ley him­self will be ap­pear­ing at the theater Thurs­day night and all week­end, and on Fri­day night will be joined by actress Aubrey Plaza, who ap­pears in “Ned Ri­fle,” along with long­time col­lab­o­ra­tor James Ur­ba­niak and other spe­cial guests.

Hart­ley at this point in his ca­reer wears many hats, not only han­dling his film­mak­ing but also over­see­ing the busi­ness and dis­tri­bu­tion side of his work as well.

“Even back in the ’90s, if I was feel­ing pesky I would cor­rect jour­nal­ists by say­ing, ‘it’s not so much that I’m an in­de­pen­dent film­maker, as I’m an in­de­pen­dent busi­ness­man,’ ” Hart­ley said re­cently by phone from his home in New York. “And the rea­son I’m an in­de­pen­dent busi­ness­man is the only thing that’s im­por­tant to me is the qual­ity of the work and sec­ond to that is the man­ner that it gets out to the au­di­ence that it’s right for.”

Taken to­gether “Henry Fool,” “Fay Grim” and “Ned Ri­fle” — the films’ ti­tles are the char­ac­ter names of fa­ther, mother and son — are a por­trait of a trou­bled fam­ily.

In “Ned Ri­fle” the young man of the ti­tle, (Liam Aiken) goes off in search of his fa­ther, Henry (Thomas Jay Ryan), with plans to kill him. Along the way he meets Su­san (Plaza), who is search­ing for Henry for rea­sons of her own. The cast also fea­tures Hart­ley reg­u­lars Parker Posey, Martin Dono­van and Ur­ba­niak.

The big ad­di­tion to Hart­ley’s world in the film is the ap­pear­ance of Plaza, best known for her work on the re­cently con­cluded TV com­edy “Parks and Recre­ation.” A long­time Hart­ley fan who first dis­cov­ered his work while she was in film school, Plaza came to the project very quickly and was ex­cited to work with the film­maker. She fits in well to Hart­ley’s styl­ized per­for­mances with slightly man­nered, off­beat rhythms, what actress Adri­enne Shelly once called the “emo­tional chore­og­ra­phy” of Hart­ley’s work.

“It was a lit­tle in­tim­i­dat­ing to be thrust into an al­ready es­tab­lished world with peo­ple who had been work­ing with Hal for years and were al­ready familiar with work­ing with him, but I just kind of went for it,” Plaza said.

Be­fore shoot­ing be­gan Plaza con­sulted with Posey and Dono­van for any guid­ance on how to best pre­pare for the non-nat­u­ral­is­tic per­for­mance style.

“They told me that work­ing with Hal is like work­ing on chore­og­ra­phy, the scenes are like dances,” Plaza said. “You have to re­ally al­low him to di­rect your move­ments and just trust that it all makes sense in the end. At first it was a lit­tle scary for me to be so spe­cific about what I was do­ing but I got used to it and then I re­ally liked it.”

Ur­ba­niak was a New York theater ac­tor when he first met Hart­ley, and made his screen de­but for the direc­tor. In the tril­ogy he plays Simon Grim, a garbage­man turned renowned poet, and Ur­ba­niak joked that it has been a chal­lenge to get back in touch with the specifics of Hart­ley’s style.

“Ev­ery time I re­visit the char­ac­ter of Simon Grim I have to re­learn how to be awk­ward and uptight,” Ur­ba­niak said.

It’s not just Hal Hart­ley who’s been get­ting an­other look lately, as it seems the re­vival of 1990s cul­ture has hit high gear. L.A.’s New Bev­erly Cinema has also re­cently turned over its screen to ’90s cinema, with March and April fea­tur­ing noth­ing but movies from that decade. Ti­tles such as “Re­al­ity Bites,” “Dazed and Con­fused,” “Boo­gie Nights,” “Swingers,” “Heat,” “Living in Obliv­ion,” “Ex­ot­ica,” “Run Lola Run” and “Ge­or­gia” have all shined a spot­light on the work of that time.

“Peo­ple have just not given that time pe­riod enough reeval­u­a­tion yet,” said Bret Berg, direc­tor of pro­gram­ming at the Cine­fam­ily. “Peo­ple have been so stuck in the ’70s and ’80s cy­cle that they for­get there are other time pe­ri­ods that are equally worth ex­plor­ing.

“I think it’s just tak­ing peo­ple a while to catch up,” Berg added. “And with Hal Hart­ley, the time has come to give this man’s movies an­other go-around.”

Ur­ba­niak has also no­ticed that it seems peo­ple too young to have seen the films at the time have been re­cently com­ing around to the movies of the ’90s and he is of­ten sur­prised how well they know Hart­ley’s work.

“A lot of younger peo­ple, like twen­tysome­things, will meet me and they’ll all talk about how much they love ‘Henry Fool,’” Ur­ba­niak said. “And th­ese are peo­ple who’ve only dis­cov­ered it in the last cou­ple of years. So while he’s had a lower pro­file in the sort of main­stream indie world over the last few years, there is ac­tu­ally a new au­di­ence dis­cov­er­ing his movies and get­ting very ex­cited about them.”

With the re­lease of “Ned Ri­fle” and the Cine­fam­ily se­ries lead­ing the way, lo­cal au­di­ences now have an over­due chance to re­con­nect with the direc­tor’s films. .

“The main things that fire you up are pri­mal,” said Hart­ley, not­ing that his work ex­plores the ir­rec­on­cil­able con­tra­dic­tions so of­ten in­her­ent in mod­ern life. “I dis­cov­ered some­thing about the na­ture of the world that cracked me up but riled me up too. And I started writ­ing about that and I guess I still do.

“All of th­ese sto­ries are my man­ner of think­ing,” Hart­ley added, “how I make sense of the world and make sense of my­self. They’re cer­tainly not au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal, but the is­sues are per­sonal.”

Pos­si­ble Films / Toronto Film Fes­ti­val

AUBREY PLAZA , a long­time Hal Hart­ley fan, is part of the en­sem­ble in the direc­tor’s new film, “Ned Ri­fle.”

TimBrake­meier E PA

HART­LEY will ap­pear at the Cine­fam­ily screen­ings of his movies.

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