Lina Plioplyte: Interview

Lina Plioplyte: Interview

We Spoke With the Brooklyn-Based Director About Her Film Advanced Style, Her Filming Techniques and What’s Next For Her

Lina Plioplyte loves telling stories. Lithuanian-born and based in New York, Lina’s enthusiasm for interesting individuals is only matched by her affinity for fashion. When she moved to the U.S, in 2007, she began shooting videos for fashion magazine NYLON. In her time as a filmmaker, she has worked with Courtney Love, William Tyler and Emma Stone, just to name a few.

Then, in 2014, she manifested her desire for longform storytelling with the documentary Advanced Style. The film is a remarkable look at seven unique women of New York who – though of advanced age – always maintain a fierce sense of fashion. It was the culmination of five years worth of work in which Lina, as director, compiled hours and hours of footage of these women, getting to know their habits and motivations and discovering within them an inspiring reserve of vitality and elegance.

After our resident film buff Rose Marel reviewed Advanced Style for our 52 Films By Women series, we reached out to Lina to see if she’d be interested in chatting with us about the documentary and her career so far. What follows is the transcript of an illuminating 40 minute conversation with her, looking back at the many years it took to make the film while gazing ahead to the future of her work as a filmmaker.


Some responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.


You were saying over email the other day that you’re suffering from a bit of jetlag, what have you been up to recently to cause that?

I went to a Native American reservation in South Dakota for a week, experiencing something very profound and different than New York life. It’s just one hour difference, but I had to sleep on it.


Were you there filming something?

Yeah, I wasn’t filming as much as I wanted to, but it was my first time there so I was meeting people and looking for characters. So yes, eventually we’ll be filming more, but right now it’s getting to know people. It’s hard sometimes, y’know, when you see interesting stuff, and you have to pull back a little bit because you don’t wanna freak people out.


I know you’ve been involved with the TV series Jungletown. What can you tell me about that?

Yeah, I was part of the crew for VICELAND’s [new show]. So, I got to live in the Panamanian jungle for three months last fall, and I came back twice this year to shoot some more stuff. I feel like I have a survival degree now. [laughs] That was quite an experience, because the director of the piece is my mentor, Ondi Timoner, this fantastic filmmaker and, like, a powerhouse of a woman. And she just called me last August and asks if I would like to go to the jungle with her, and I said, “Of course”, because I love her!

I didn’t really know what it entailed, and it turned out that it’s about a sustainable town being built in the jungle, and I am a huge sustainability fanatic, if you will. So it was right up my alley, and it was a really great experience. But it was raining cats and dogs every single day, so it was very [difficult] learning survival with cameras in the wet season in the jungle.

A still from VICELAND’s Jungletown. (VICELAND)


“What does it mean if I want to paint my lips blue and wear sparkles on Tuesday?”


Knowing that you have a lot of experience with fashion in your short films, I’m curious as to how much of a natural progression it was to make something like Advanced Style and whether you found making the documentary more challenging than you expected.

I spent my first years of my career doing fashion videos, so it felt really natural to talk about style, and I always loved people who express themselves through clothing. Therefore, the connection with subjects for Advanced Style was a really easy, really natural one. However, Advanced Style has become more than a film about fashion or style.

Style is where we started, and then we delved deeper and it turned out to be a manifesto of living free, no matter what age you are, and asking, “What is age anyway?” and, “What does it mean if I want to paint my lips blue and wear sparkles on Tuesday?” [laughs].

So, it became more than a “fashion film”, per se. But yes, of course it was challenging because it was my first feature film and we did not know much of what we were doing. It was just me and Ari Cohen all the way through distribution of the film. So now I know what not to do and am so much smarter about how things are done. So it took time and it took huge effort, and luckily it paid off.


How did that come about, working with and meeting Ari Cohen?

It was my first year in New York, and I was pouring coffee somewhere. I was 24 or something and I was an intern at NYLON, this fashion magazine, and Ari walks in one day and we just commented on our paisley and polka dot medley that we were both wearing. And he said he’s new in New York city and he was looking for friends, and I was like, y’know, already an old New Yorker having been here for six months!

So we just started the friendship immediately, and he mentioned that he wanted to start a street blog about these older women and I said, “That sounds beautiful.” And perhaps a couple of months later, we saw each other and he had started taking some pictures, and when I saw them I immediately connected with them and asked him if I could come along on one of these shoots and make a little video piece.

Lina Plioplyte and Ari Cohen. (Fashionista)

To me, it sounded like these women were incredible and I just wanted to know what was driving them to dress [that way] at the age of 80. Y’know, what drives them to be creative and kooky and kind of step out of the societal understanding of what a woman of a certain age should wear? So we started making these little video pieces and we started putting them on YouTube, and they received so many good reactions and warmth from people.

Then I started filming one of the woman meeting another woman, which was fun, seeing the clan forming. Then Ari put out a book and that really put him and his work on the stage. It was a wave that everyone was experiencing, and I was lucky to be there with a camera. And at that point, I told Ari, “I think we have a whole movie!” So we set up a Kickstarter, got some money for editing and there we went.


Did either you or Ari have any expectation that the film and its subjects would gain this level of popularity?

No, absolutely not! Neither of us expected anything of the sort, because we’re just kids in the city. We were filming over the weekends and whenever I could sneak a camera out of what was then my job. It wasn’t like we had made investments or a even a production schedule! It was literally me schlepping all the gear and Ari there sometimes, although sometimes it was just me.

It was as indie as you could possible get, put it that way. So, it just was one of those moments where you’re in the right space at the right time. And the fact that the [older] age is in – and I believe it is still in – in fashion at the moment, and our film was a nice add-on to the movement that was happening and is still happening with it. [The success] is really good, but it could not have been planned.


“I always admire the people I film, that’s why I film them.”


Of all the women profiled in Advanced Style, was there anyone that you had a particular fondness for or kinship with?

They all provided something different, something wonderful and representative of different parts of society and of New York. But Deborah Rapoport, the pink-haired lady, has instantly become my mother. We laugh that she’s an alternative mother of mine in New York because she’s half Lithuanian and I’m Lithuanian. So we had this bit of connection.

And of course, Ilona, who is just a little Yoda. A zen master at 96 years old, with orange hair, such a magic being. And Lynn Dell! I hope she is storming the heavens right now having the best party of her life. That woman, I loved to pieces, with her outrageous “Queen of the Party” kind of attitude. She was larger than life and Ari and I always speak of how much we miss her. She was fabulous in that true sense of the word: “Fabulous, darling!” [laughs]

They’re all incredible, and we’re all still friends and we visit one another. All the documentary books tell you that you’re not supposed to be friends with your subjects, but that’s never the case in my book. Because I always admire the people I film, that’s why I film them, because I’m really in awe of their ways of life. So there’s no way not to be good friends. It would not have been the same film, either, if I had two assistants, a lights guy and a boom mic there. Intimacy really made it work.

Besides your mentor, Ondi Timoner, are there any people you draw inspiration from in your filmmaking?

Not for Advanced Style, particularly. But Mr. Werner Herzog is someone I always, always come back to when I have doubts. Y’know, we’re all craftsmen and creators, and sometimes I have no idea where I’m going or what I’m doing. So, in those moments, it’s always Werner’s wise, rough advice that I tend to follow, because he always kicks me in the butt in the right places.

I’m always inspired by other people’s badass-ness, in that it inspires me to be more badass. Seeing how other people deal with conflict or trouble, or enter some world where they’re not supposed to be and get the footage they came there for. It’s always extremely inspiring for me, because it makes me feel like I’m not alone in this crazy quest.


What’s the most significant change that making Advanced Style had on your outlook life?

Making the film and putting it out there has made me realise the power of messages that we as filmmakers have, the power of shaping – and sometimes shaking – the world with messages that are well-told.

Because I could never have dreamed of the success of Advanced Style, and I’m not talking about financial success. People are still coming up to me and saying, “Oh my God, I saw your movie. I freakin’ loved it!” It happened in the Panama jungle, ok? And I’m like, “…what?” So the fact that people have seen it and connected with it is so heartwarming and such a powerful feeling, because it made me realise what one can do with the medium of film.

It’s really sparked me on my journey as a filmmaker and it has really empowered me. To step up into a director’s role and to have the guts to tell stories, and approach people that are inspiring and ask for their story. And to tell those stories to people, which basically I do now with with my whole existence, whether it be making films, commercial content or even, like, InstaStories. [laughs]

So it empowered me a lot. It opened a lot of doors for me, just for myself in my head, y’know? Because, as a woman, sometimes you have inhibitions, you have have feelings, you have self-belittling techniques, perhaps. Like: “Who am I to the story? Who am to approach these people or even think that I would get this?” So, sometimes you tell yourself so many negative things that you don’t even try.


“Everything feeds to your personal growth, everything feeds to the same purpose.”


Have you considered, in the wake of Advanced Style, turning more towards narrative, fiction films?

I really, really, really love real stories most of all. I think life is stranger than fiction. I like it, and I really enjoy talking to people and I’m good, by now, at opening them up and hearing and telling their stories. And I live and breathe it, I absolutely love it. So documentary is my natural choice, my first choice.

But, that said, I just agreed with a friend that I will be writing a narrative with him, and that’s gonna be my first one. And that is challenging as hell, just to say yes to something like that. Like, “How the hell are we gonna make it? How are we gonna make it fun and interesting and original?”

But that’s what’s fun in life, taking challenges. Because, in the end, everything feeds to your personal growth, everything feeds to the same purpose. So, if I write a narrative, even if I fail it teaches me so much in the process about who I am, about how to shape a character and about becoming a better documentarian through it, y’know?


Not being familiar with Lithuanian cinema, I was wondering if your heritage and culture plays a part in your style and techniques as a director?

I don’t know. That’s for the historians to say, right? [laughs] I know that I definitely have an eye for kitschy overload of everything. Italian and Eastern European cinema definitely has its own rich visual language, so perhaps that speaks in my films through details and patterns that I obsess about. I’ve never thought about it too much, but I look for patterns and richness, y’know, textures of any kind. When I make my movies, I look through the viewfinder for that picture.

But, in the moment [with documentaries] there’s nothing you can do but pretend you’re not really filming. [laughs] There are some little tricks, because when there’s a beautiful flow going on, especially in conversations, sometimes the camera just being stuck in their face will immediately disrupt them.

That’s why – it sounds strange – but the less you do the better. I’ve been on productions where I’m so used to following natural flows, where a person is miked and you hear what they’re talking about, so you turn the camera on at the right moment to capture it. But when you have a boom operator, it changes the atmosphere immediately, where you’re like, “Oh, there’s a good thing happening!” and then there’s just this boom hanging over them.

It changes things, which sounds awful because, y’know… boom guys are cool! [laughs] But in this circumstance, the smaller the equipment, the less people, the more intimately you capture what is going on. So it’s really exciting to be in this age, where we can be as invisible as possible. It’s pretty cool, when you think about it.


Advanced Style can be streamed in full on SBS on Demand.


For more on Lina Plioplyte, check out her website, her films on Vimeo and her Instagram.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *