Interview: ‘Big Sonia’ Directors Leah Warshawski & Todd Soliday

Big Sonia (in select theaters now) is a fantastic documentary about a woman that has overcome tremendous obstacles in her life, surviving the Holocaust being one of them. Sonia’s life is one-of-a-kinda and it’s chronicled by her granddaughter Leah Warshawski and Todd Soliday, who direct this film. Check out my fun and insightful conversation with them below

What prompted you to have this be the point now to make this film:

LW: We began filming when Sonia was eighty-five and at that time we realized that in our lifetime all of the survivors (Holocaust) would be gone.

TS: The clock was ticking. 

LW: The clock was ticking. Also, when we set out to make the film we started out making a short film, it obviously morphed into something bigger and multi-themed. Our intention was to make a short film when she was eighty-five about the shop while she was still healthy. 

How did you plot and plan the movie: 

LW: As you probably know as I’m sure you talk to many filmmakers, everything in the process is dictated by budget and funding and how much you have or don’t have. For us it’s been a six-and-a-half year fundraising process. I’d say we are still raising money, we are always raising money to keep going. Funding is essentially who it took us as long as it did. 

TS: We knew it was a fair bet that Sonia would land in a way that only Sonia can land as she’s done over and over throughout her life. So many times she shouldn’t have survived, but she did.

REAL TALK:

I really enjoyed speaking to Leah and Todd. They were very forthcoming and personable. There are so many notable little tidbits that they shared about Sonia and the filmmaking process. It was interesting to hear Leah talk about the movie bringing her closer to Sonia than she ever was. Todd’s takeaway was also notable how making this film and witnessing Sonia made him reflect on his own family dynamic and appreciate it that much more. This is what this movie accomplishes. Sonia is an inspirational person. To survive the Holocaust and share her life experiences with people seeking guidance and a perspective is very powerful.

I can relate to having a Sonia-like family member. Coming from a Eastern European family background, I’ve had family members that had a little Sonia in them. In a sense I think of my mom. There is a lot all of us can take away from Sonia. Her spirit is infectious. I know seeing her go about her life motivated me in many ways. First of all I wanna be in damn good shape like she is, so I need to up my activity level! The fish topic was my favorite. I had no idea anyone liked fish in jelly?

Do you have someone in your family similar to Sonia? What did you take away from what Leah and Todd had to say? Please let me know if you’re a jelly fish aficionado hiding out there. Leave your comments and share below or let me know on Twitter @TheJimAlexander or @TheReelTalker

Big Sonia is out now in select theaters, check your local theater listings

Interview: ‘An Inconvenient Sequel’ Directors Jon Shenk and Bonni Cohen

Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth has a sequel. Unfortunately for us the weather is getting worse, but the movie sequel is just as educational and important, if not more, than the first. An Inconvenient Sequel’s filmmakers Jon Shenk and Bonni Cohen stopped in Chicago on their press tour and I had a chance to speak to them. Joining me in the interview are Chicago film critics Jon Espino of The Young Folks and Pat McDonald of Hollywood Chicago. Two very good journalists that I enjoy interacting with. We were all part of the roundtable with Jon and Bonni and the following is what was discussed about the film, global warming and Al Gore. Check it out below:

“I question this all the time, having spent two years with Al Gore, is the work potentially more vital that he’s doing now than he could have done as president? It’s a better question to ask if he hadn’t done it, would anyone else have and where would we be?” — Bonni Cohen

MY TAKE:

I never know what the folks I interview will be like when I meet them, but I always tend to have an idea or image that sort of comes about before I meet them, even for a fleeting moment. In Jon and Bonni’s case, they were fairly similar what I imagined them to be. They were intelligent, well-spoken, thoughtful and conversational. These are the sort of people you are drawn to listen to and hear talk about their experience and expertise. I found them to be that way.

I felt we all had solid questions for them. I liked how Jon snuck in a Star Wars mention, Jon directed Star Wars: Episodes 1 & 2, although there wasn’t much of an acknowledgement to Jon’s statement, oops. Someone was gonna bring it up and Jon was the one. I think the answer that might have surprised us most was that Jon and Bonni were married. None of us had any idea! They were so professional that you couldn’t tell. The content in movie wasn’t as surprising given the reality of the climate change, but them being a real life couple might have been the biggest reveal of the day. I wanted to follow-up and ask them how they manage to be on the road for two years with Gore and bring this film together, all while having two teenage kids to tend to. Can’t be easy.

As far as the movie itself, it’s great. One of those must-see documentaries that impacts EVERYONE on this planet. Global warming is a real problem, just look out the window and step outside and you’ll notice. The film clocks in at 98 minutes, but you’d never know due to the engaging effect it has. It draws you in and doesn’t let go.

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power is out now in theaters in Chicago and nationwide. Check your local listings.

You can follow me on Twitter @JimRko and @TheReelTalker