Bruno Ierullo is one of those characters that, usually, a storyteller only dreams of. He’s eccentric (that’s perhaps an understatement), charismatic, talkative (that’s definitely an understatement), and sure of himself. So it’s no wonder that when documentary filmmaker Jesse Mann stumbled upon Ierullo and his dreams of becoming a fashion designer (with no previous experience in the field), she jumped at the chance to follow his journey. The result is Material Success, Mann’s debut feature-length film that premiered at the Canadian Film Fest on Thursday, March 29. It’s a heartwarming story of perseverance, confidence, and above all, passion.

When the film first started, I admit, I was wary of Ierullo. He seemed obnoxiously chatty and uncontrollable and bizarre. But before I knew it, and almost in spite of myself, I was rooting for him. Ierullo, after experiencing serious family trauma (his brother became paralyzed and his sister died), decided to throw his life’s savings into creating his own fashion line—something he had zero prior experience in, aside from making his own clothes growing up. The film follows Ierullo for the month leading up to his first fashion show in 2009: all the late nights and early mornings, the laughs with his production manager Susana Benavides (who is herself a loveable, hilarious, dedicated lady), all the ups and downs of diving head-on into your passion. And while there were a few holes (I was curious to know, for example, how much money Ierullo invested in his line, and how his designs are doing in the industry now), I walked away from the film with a smile on my face; Ierullo does that to a gal.

It’s not that he’s handsome (his hair is a frizzy, curly mess and his nose is, well, large; after the viewing on Thursday he said something to the effect of, “Next time I do a film I’m wearing make-up!”), but more just that, he’s so wildly wacky and wonderfully weird that you can’t help but want to hug him. “He didn’t have a filter,” said Mann, who was introduced to Ierullo through the designer’s nephew, Paul. “A lot of people are really poised when put in front of the camera. Bruno was immediately himself. He was charismatic; he wore all of his emotions on his sleeve.”

For Ryerson film grad Mann, who spent over two years working on the film, Ierullo’s story represents a much greater message: that sometimes throwing caution and regularity to the wind are the most stable decisions you can make for yourself; that ultimately, doing what you love to do is more important than any measure of normalcy.

“I really respect people who follow their passion and aren’t hindered by convention or by expectations of what other people think they should do,” she says. “I think if you really follow what you believe in, follow your passion, then no matter what, you’ll have success. So to me, Bruno was just someone that epitomized this. He was storming the doors of the fashion world.”

After a little Internet poking, I discovered that Ierullo, who in the film is seen muttering confusedly to himself about who “all these people” on Facebook are, has over 205,000 Twitter followers and over 359,000 Facebook fans. He also has boutique in downtown Toronto, (81 St. Nicholas St., by appointment only) and saw his “Fighter” robe designs worn by Lady Gaga’s dancers on the pop singer’s Monster Ball tour. So things have really shaped up for him, and to be honest, I can’t help but be happy about it. Mann—whose next film follows 80s rock band Platinum Blonde—does a great job of letting her characters speak for themselves (shout-out to Ierullo’s very Italian mother, who in the film stresses the importance and relevance of housecoats). The film is as lighthearted and funny as the man it follows—but nowhere near as unconventional. Ierullo is in his own league on that one.

~ Sara Harowitz