High Profile: Filmmaker Austin Stark

Austin Stark at the Premiere of Tribeca Film’s "Detachment"
Austin Stark at the Premiere of Tribeca Film’s "Detachment," Photo: Nicholas Hunt / PatrickMcMullan.com

While the star of the show on the East End is usually its beaches, farms, and quaint village downtowns, even the best acts need an acclaimed director.

In the Hamptons, that would be Austin Stark. Stark is a well-respected, New York-based filmmaker who has produced Golden Globe-nominated films that bring to light the issues of our time.

His films often push the envelope, portraying society in such a way that provoke questions about our norms. With overtures that include social justice, Stark’s writing, directing, and producing is in the right time and the right place, to open eyes through the cinema to the progress that we still need to make for a more perfect world.

Stark has worked alongside some of the nation’s foremost names in American film production, including Sony Pictures Classics. In 2015, his work on the film Infinitely Polar Bear helped earn actor Mark Ruffalo a nomination at the Golden Globes for Best Actor. Ruffalo’s acting and commitment to activism and advocacy complemented the role of a father of two who was battling bipolar disorder. The movie helped cement Stark as a well-known name in the independent film space.

Today, Stark is a young and emerging director, solely focused on writing and directing narrative feature films.

Stark’s most recent film, his second as director, is in theaters and on-demand now. Titled The God Committee, it stars an iconic, ensemble cast including Julia Stiles, Kelsey Grammer, Colman Domingo and Janeane Garofalo. The film is a politically charged medical drama and incorporates circumstances unknown to the average audience. It was an Official Selection at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival, and premiered on June 20.

Critics agree The God Committee is Stark’s biggest film yet. Set in New York in 2014, a donor heart arrives at a New York Hospital. The recipient of the heart, waiting for the vital transplant, dies on the operating table. Medical personnel are then tasked with the bioethical conundrum of asking which of three patients should receive the lifesaving heart. As the final moments near at rapid pace, five doctors must decide who “deserves” the heart, as morality, medicine and money all play a part in their consideration. Then, seven years later, the film explores the impact of that one decision.

“One of the reasons that I made this film was to shed light on how serious the worldwide organ shortage is, so more than anything else, I am hoping that my film will help inspire more people to donate organs and save lives,” says Stark.

The crossroads between drama and real life sets the tone for this compelling and thought-provoking film, especially for New Yorkers, whose state ranks last in registered number of organ donors. The film should help draw viewers to the cinema for the first time since the movies have reopened after COVID-19 restrictions were lifted.

“As a director, I gravitate to material that I feel is socially relevant. One of my early films as a producer, for example, Infinitely Polar Bear, told a compelling story about a father with bipolar disorder,” says Stark. “My first film as a director, The Runner, follows a politician in the wake of the BP oil spill. Now, my newest film offers a lens into the world of organ transplantation.”

Austin’s family owns a home in Bridgehampton, a lovely hamlet on the South Fork that is nestled between Water Mill and Sagaponack. Year-round, like many of us, he is based in New York.

“When I was growing up, my family had a home in Westhampton, so I have been coming out east since I was a child,” Stark says. “One memory as a child I have is going to the beach with my family and friends and just cruising through Westhampton, going to Bun and Burger or Baby Moon—great family style Italian. I still go to Baby Moon sometimes as I am passing by.”

When spending time in the Hamptons, he is often with his family in the warmer months, including his partner, Daria Pahhota, and his four-month old daughter.

“I have become a bit more laid back, inviting friends over and barbecuing,” he says. “I also like to go to the beach and do yoga at Hamptons Hot Yoga, I love that place.”

When asked to describe the Hamptons in one word, he says: “Beautiful.”

“It is just aesthetically a gorgeous place, from the vineyards, to the beaches,” Stark says (and we couldn’t agree more).

Todd Shapiro is an award-winning publicist and associate publisher of Dan’s Papers.

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