advanced style, hot docs, hot docs 2014, advanced style hot docsHot Docs

First there was the blog, and then there was the book, now there's the film. Ari Cohen's wildly popular photo collection of older women who push fashion to the limit in New York City has been given the big screen treatment, and is one of the most talked-about films at this year's Hot Docs Festival.

"Advanced Style" sashays into Toronto for four stylish screenings, and it isn't an easy ticket to come by. Word on this film has spread like wildfire over the last few months as major magazines and television programs have profiled the women featured in the doc, as well as Cohen himself and filmmaker Lina Plioplyte. With all the hype, it would seem there is a serious push to better represent mature women in the modern age of fashion.

The film begins the same way the blog did, with Ari Cohen walking up to elegant-looking older women who are subconsciously using the city streets at their runway, and asking to take a few pictures. Call it confidence, or call it vanity, but most of the women he asks seem to take him up on it.

At the perfect length of 72 minutes, "Advanced Style" starts out as a gleeful fashion show. Within the first few minutes, you meet half a dozen women who range in age from about 60 to 100. After your mind adjusts to the visual roller-coaster of angular hats, bright red woolens and 3-inch lashes, this doc starts to do its real work: understanding the motivation behind its subjects. One woman owns a vintage clothing store, but money and love don't come easily. Another in her 90s only "came of age" in terms of art and fashion about 15 years ago! The owner of the long standing Off Broadway Boutique is never short on advice and outfits, and is going strong at 80. And a legally blind former dancer isn't ruling out her chance at meeting Mr. Right.

What's striking during this film is how confident these older women are in their resolve to dress the way they like. By the same token, they can be vulnerable and forthcoming about their position in life while the camera rolls. It's this mix of imagery and storytelling that makes the documentary version of "Advanced Style" a different experience than the blog. Ari Cohen's images are dazzling, but it's Plioplyte's filmmaking skill that coaxes out the thoughtful and even painful back stories from these women.

More important than any fashion triumph or faux-pas you may judge while watching, this doc reminds everyone that there is no point in giving up. Your health will fail you. Friends and family will come and go. Age happens, but style remains. The women of Ari Cohen's genius idea for a blog make getting older seem way better than not getting the opportunity.

"Advanced Style" is a real charmer. Don't miss it.

SCREENINGS
Hart House Theatre, Tues., Apr. 29, 10:00 p.m.
Isabel Bader Theatre, Thurs., May 1, 1:00 p.m.
Regent Theatre, Sat, May 3, 1:30 p.m.
Isabel Bader Theatre, Sun., May 4, 1:30 p.m.