A leader of the 1990s American independent filmmaking movement, writer/director Hal Hartley was one of the most distinctive cinematic talents to emerge at the close of the 20th century. Combining the deadpan aesthetic of Buster Keaton with the lean economy of Robert Bresson, his films are arch comic explorations of truth, communication, and desire. Initially supported by a recurring ensemble of actors including Martin Donovan, Adrienne Shelly, and Karen Sillas, Hartley established a uniquely self-referential vision with a sense of rhythm, atmosphere, and mise-en-scéne all its own, adhering so strictly to the auteur theory that he even composed his own musical scores under the pseudonym Ned Rifle.
Born November 3, 1959, in Lindenhurst, NY, Hartley first attended the Massachusetts College of Art, but in 1980 he transferred to S.U.N.Y.-Purchase, where he studied film under the noted director/editor Aram Avakian. Upon completing his graduation film, 1984's Kid (where he first teamed with cinematographer Michael Spiller, a fixture of his later work as well), he accepted a job with his father's construction company, later finding work in Manhattan with a public service announcement production house. After completing two more short films, 1987's The Cartographer's Girlfriend and 1988's Dogs, Hartley's employers agreed to fund his feature-length debut, 1989's The Unbelievable Truth, which he shot for just 75,000 dollars.