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Wednesday, July 1, 2015

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Filmmaker gave up the lab to make movies

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Richard Stark

Emerging Canadian filmmaker Richard Stark’s new comedy 30-Love beat out 35 other Canadian films, winning best Canadian short film at the 2013 Montreal World Film Festival in early September. Stark wrote, directed and produced the project.

Considering that the award-winning filmmaker almost never even pursued his dreams of a film career, he’s come quite a long way. Before attending the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts, he studied biology at the University of Toronto. After a year of conducting research in a lab, he realized his heart really lay in what he loved to do since he was a child: telling stories through films.

“I made my first movie when I was 11, and ever since then, I’ve been in love with making movies,” said Stark, now 37. “I’m in love with storytelling.”

Growing up in Toronto, Stark always heard stories about his grandparents’ escape from Nazi-occupied eastern Europe. “Their stories really inspired me and gave me a natural love for storytelling.”

Indeed, the premiere of his film at the Montreal World Film Festival was especially exciting for Stark’s 87-year-old grandmother, who dreamed of seeing her grandson’s name on the big screen, and it marked the first time in 37 years that she returned to Montreal, the city her family immigrated to after escaping Europe.

“I feel touched to have my family return to the city that took them in, a place that represented freedom and a new life,” he said.

It isn’t the first time that Stark’s work has gotten recognition. His film Afternoon Tea, about a religious Indian man who disowned his daughter for marrying outside her culture and finally meets his grandson for the first time, played at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2011 and received a 2012 Leo Award nomination for best screenwriting in a short drama. Another one of his comedies, An Innocent Family, also won him best director at the 2011 Los Angeles Comedy Festival.

Whether he’s making comedies or dramatic films, there’s one thing that ties all of them together: his commitment to telling stories about real issues while portraying them in a natural way.

“I like realistic performances, stories about people and what makes them tick and what motivates them,” Stark said. “I like telling human stories.”

His latest film, 30-Love, was based on his own experiences growing up in Toronto. The film tells the story of a man, Bruce, who drags his wife, Jodi, to join a fancy country club, even though they can’t really afford it. To be eligible, they must impress two of the club’s board members, an obnoxious, wealthy couple who have everything that Bruce thinks he wants.

The couples play a “friendly” tennis game, which quickly escalates into something much more serious than that, as Bruce realizes his marriage is crumbling and is more important than a tennis match or fancy country clubs.

“The ritzy tennis club in 30-Love was inspired by similar clubs that I was occasionally invited to as a guest in Toronto. Tennis can be an ego-driven sport, but when you add status and money to the equation, you can get some very pretentious personalities that I wanted to capture in a comedy,” said Stark.

“My goal was to have the actors truthfully and realistically capture this kind of snobbish behaviour.”

Winning the award earlier this month was extremely exciting for Stark, and a validation of his hard work.

“It was so exciting, to be in front of hundreds of people and accept the award… to have that recognition that audiences love the movie and really enjoyed it,” he said. “When I’m making a movie, I’m making it for the audience.”

Stark is already at work on new projects. He’s written a psychological drama about a South Asian girl who commits suicide, and her traditional parents blame their other daughter for what happened. It’s currently being filmed in Vancouver.

He’s also working on his first feature film directorial debut for his script My Son’s Big Bris, which was a finalist at the 2011 Los Angeles Comedy Festival.

“I’m hoping that this prestigious award will bring attention to that feature script, which is similar in tone,” Stark said.

After all, there’s nothing he loves doing more than making movies.

“I’ve never looked back, I’ve always loved it. I hope I’ll be doing it for the rest of my life.”

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