When you say “science-fiction,” the name of the great indie filmmaker Hal Hartley doesn’t automatically come to mind. But Hartley has staked his claim in the domain of science-fiction with his extraordinary feature The Girl from Monday, which is currently in limited release across the United States.
Set in New York of the not-too-distant future, “The Girl from Monday” presents a dystopia run by a government which rules via media manipulation, incessant fear mongering and the advocacy of crass consumerism. An advertising professional who helped engineer this turn of events leads a small, ragtag counterrevolutionary movement. Complicating matters is the unexpected arrival of the eponymous character, an alien who literally drops out of the sky and into the ocean (taking the very lovely form of Brazilian model Tatiana Abracos, whose nude oceanic plunge is perhaps the most eye-catching movie entrance in many years).
Hartley spoke with Film Threat to discuss his foray into the sci-fi realm.
In many ways, “The Girl from Monday” recalls classic sci-fi which was driven by story and character rather than special effects (such as “The Twilight Zone” and the original “Star Trek” TV series). Do you feel that too much contemporary sci-fi gets cluttered up with special effects and CGI trickery to the point that story and character development is lost?
I don’t mind technological special effects that much in a lot of sci-fi. There can still be good stories. I thought The Matrix was a good story and the special effects told that story well. But, really, I don’t think of “The Girl from Monday” as sci-fi. Not for real. It’s more like a song about life now told AS IF it were sci-fi. Sometime copping the postures of a genre can allow you to address a broader range of topics and allow you to be a little more poetic without being too heavy.
The future of “The Girl from Monday” seems to overlap some of the less-savory aspects of contemporary American society: a government ruling by fear and paranoia-mongering, media manipulation, rampant consumer obsessions, etc. Was this an intentional commentary on America in the Age of Dubya and the irrational extension of where this kind of a society is heading?
I think the world’s been this way for a number of generations. But its true, recently the speed up of technology – the speed at which we can process and move around information – has changed the way we think about ourselves – privacy, intimacy, personal integrity… it can numb us.
How has the audience reaction been to “The Girl from Monday”?
It was great to see it in Sundance with large audiences. For so many months, professional distributors and sales agents (friends of mine whose advice I sought) were telling me what I’ve got here is a beautiful but difficult art film – which is not what I thought I was making at the time. It was so consistent that I guess I came to believe this. But at Sundance, the audience was rocking with laughter and enjoying the movie in all sorts of ways. They were having a good time. And they were moved. That gave me a lot of confidence.
Why did you opt to self-distribute “The Girl from Monday”? And what kind of distribution strategy did you map out for bringing the film to theatrical release?
At a certain point in producing a movie like this – very small, in some ways experimental, with inexpensive equipment and a core group of creative friends – it began to seem like we could consider production and distribution to be the same thing. Of course it is, in fact, all this speedy technology I was just worrying about that makes this possible. We were already thinking about the production in such radically different terms than is usual with a feature film that crossing the line over into distribution was maybe a little easier.
We took as our example the way most documentaries have been distributed to independent movie houses over the past thirty years. One just creates a relationship with all these movie houses across the country. It’s not complicated. Just very time consuming. And tons of details to remember. But it’s very satisfying. You get out there into the world – very close to the people who are responding to your films.
You are also self-distributing a collection of your short films on DVD. Has it been easier or harder to self-distribute to the theatrical or the DVD market?
We are learning that those two markets – theatrical and home video – can’t be separated so easily. The DVD release requires some theatrical exposure. But it doesn’t need to be super large.
A great many independent filmmakers have taken to self-distributing their films. Is this something you plan to do with your upcoming features? And would you consider expanding to release other people’s films?
The main idea is to eventually distribute other people’s films. But all we have to work with right now are mine. It’s true, though, we don’t feel very original in doing this. At a certain point – given the kind of things I want to pursue in my filmmaking – it just made sense. I’m sure a lot of filmmakers feel the same way.
So…can I get a date with your gorgeous alien, Tatiana Abracos?
She marries her man, Rob, in a week or two. Stand in line…