BWW Reviews: Jewish Film Fest Celebrates Older Women - With 'Style'

In a paean to older women living life to the fullest, the inaugural week of the 2015 San Diego Jewish Film Festival ( screened the charming documentary Advanced Style (USA 2014), directed by Lina Plioplyte with screenplay by San Diego photographer Ari Seth Cohen.

Cohen, who pens a blog on "sartorial savvy for the senior set," said in his pre-screening remarks that as a child he was highly influenced by his grandmothers, who taught him an appreciation for aging and its resulting wisdom. "There was nothing out there for older women," he said of blogging.

Taking his camera to the streets of Manhattan, Cohen found panoplies of "women of a certain age", i.e. from their 60s to their 90s (one described her age as "between 50 and death"), who celebrate life by finding happiness in dressing with vibrantly colorful, flamboyant style and flair. These are women who demonstrate their pleasure in going out and about amongst other New Yorkers well turned out in attention-grabbing attire.

Not only do the filmmakers bring out the panache of these divas, each of whom is an artist in her own right, but they also induce the women to open up about some astonishing life experiences. One woman dressed up to ride her bicycle in the park. "And I don't wear a helmet," she says. Another woman, one of the original Apollo Theater dancers, recounted her story about Harlem Sunday churchgoers parading down the Avenue in their most elegant finery. Another managed to keep Ayn Rand seated long enough to pose for the drawing that was ultimately used for the celebrated writer's book jackets. Yet another described her clothing boutique as an art studio, where she creates ensembles that resemble colorful Impressionist paintings. Another helped break the glass ceiling at Cosmopolitan Magazine. And another stated simply and appealingly, "I was born happy."

Cohen himself sported a wildly colored blazer over a white T-shirt emblazoned with bold black letters reading, "Old is the new black."

Alternately poignant and downright hilarious, the testimonies of the women prompted bursts of laughter, guffaws, and murmurs of understanding from the mostly female audience. The unmitigated joy of the women portrayed in the film was captivating; their comfort in their own skins, not to mention their boldness and chutzpah in embracing their maturity, was flat-out inspiring.

As a prelude to the film, Israeli designers and the Pomegranate La Jolla boutique jointly presented a fashion show representing modish clothing styled with older women in mind. The styles, if less dramatic and showy than those portrayed in the film, were cheerful and flattering, with appealing touches like polka dots and bold accessories, and featured many subtle shades of grey and other soft colors. The women, all local models, sashayed, strutted and flounced their way across the stage to the pulsing beat of rock songs, some with lyrics in Hebrew, to the appreciative whoops and catcalls from spectators, many of which were rooting for their friends. "These are clothes that show we accept you the way you are...that you feel comfortable with your body right now," the moderator said to thunderous applause. Fashion can be therapeutic after all.

Fashion industry producer and Fashion Editor of Palms Spring Life Magazine Susan Stein was excited to be invited to the event by her old friend SDJFF Executive Director Craig Prater (/bwwmovies/article/BWW-Interview-San-Diego-Jewish-Film-Festival-Promises-Something-for-Everyone-20150120#), "He's always been very supportive of what I've done with fashion," Stein said. The event she produces, Fashion Week El Paseo, very similar to a film festival, a weeklong fashion event with eight shows, is "The biggest one in the entire country right now," she said. Stein is also thrilled about Advanced Style, which she had screened previously. "I love the fact that because of the Baby Boomers older women are being paid attention to right now, and especially knowing you just don't have to wear old ladies' clothes anymore."

Stein concurs with the film's themes. "A woman can have a personal style at any age, just to feel good about herself. I'm really happy about that."

SDJFF co-chairs Saundra Sapirstein and Devorah Gurantz, who both participated in the day's fashion show, are passionate about fashion, film, and especially the celebration of a festival they would like to see burgeon over the years. "We want to reach more and more people from the various San Diego communities and host guests from the other cities," said Gurantz.

Given the dedication and enthusiasm of the festival's producers and supporters, and the wholehearted response of the audience, Gurantz's fervent hope seems like a distinct possibility, with enough dedication. In the regard, one of the filmed divas had a bit of succinct but very sage advice:


Photo Credit: Stephen Dorian Miner

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