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: ‘Escape Room’ Director Will Wernick

Lionsgate’s Escape Room is a perfect mystery horror film treat for Halloween. The film is out now on DVD and I had a chance to talk about it with the director Will Wernick. This interview contains the film’s *SPOILERS* so beware while listening.

What made you want to direct this film:

WW: I was working on another film with one of our producers Kelly Delson and her husband, I was at their house one night, at the end of a meeting he pulled me aside and asked why hasn’t there been a movie about an escape room? I said that was a really good question. So I went home an outlined it and came back the next morning and said I have a writer that can write this quickly and we can get it going and we were shooting three months later. I’ve never seen anything get financed that quickly. 

This movie seems like it’s set in real time, there is a lot of mystery, is this something you were going for: 

WW: Absolutely, I’m a big fan of fun thrillers. We didn’t stick with it, but in the original outline the idea was that there would be a clock that you always saw, so escape room portion would be exactly an hour. That doesn’t really work out when you make a movie, but I think we we were pretty close. It ends up being a little less.

MY TAKE: 

This is the kind of movie that I’m fortunate to speak to the director of it about. Escape Room is like a puzzle and it leaves you with a few interpretations, especially the ending. I enjoyed hearing Will elaborate on the motives and ideas they had for the characters and plot. Will proved me right, when he confirmed that the movie was supposed to and was consciously trying to have the escape room take place in real time.

The actors chemistry really worked, so I was surprised to hear that they haven’t met or knew each other prior to the filming. Credit to their professionalism and skills. This movie couldn’t have been done without a solid ensemble cast that clicked together.

Escape Room really impressed me. It’s a thought provoking movie with a compelling story and theme. The ending had me wanting more, so I’m glad Will is working on a sequel. I’ll be looking forward to it.

Escape Room is out now on DVD, Digital HD and On Demand

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

Interview: ‘Pilgrimage’ Director Brendan Muldowney Discusses The Film

Pilgrimage (in theaters & VOD on August 11) tells the story of a group of monks on a journey to Rome in order to deliver a holy monastery relic. The film stars Tom Holland, Jon Bernthal and Richard Armitage. I had an opportunity to talk to the director of the film, Mr. Brendan Muldowney. In my interview Brendan discusses the weather troubles the production encountered during filming, he talks about the three lead actors Holland, Bernthal and Armitage, and he shares with me his former unique hobby, which is quite shocking when you hear it. An excerpt of the interview and the full audio can be found below:

“Tom Holland, who I’ve seen in ‘The Impossible’ and ‘How I Live Now’, he wasn’t Spider-Man, Tom was the first one on. I saw him in those films and I thought he was brilliant. Thought there was a great truthfulness to him, that’s what I was looking for.” — Brendan Muldowney

MY TAKE:

When it came to the weather I expected to hear that it played in naturally to the film. The answer I received was the opposite. Apparently, there was a heat wave while they were shooting and those cool gloomy dark shades of the skies in the background were computer digitized and enhanced.

I really liked the fact that Brendan didn’t give a copout answer when talking about what attracts him to films, good stories being that answer. Brendan’s answer was cult movies. That’s really cool and interesting to hear. I enjoy finding out quirks or special interests of the folks I get to interview. When I asked Brendan this question, he told me he used to canoe for Ireland. I think that’s just badass and so unique. This is the kinda stuff I get a kick out of hearing and would like my readers to know about.

Pilgrimage releases in Theaters, Digital HD and VOD on August 11, 2017

You can follow me on Twitter @JimRko and @TheReelTalker

Interview: ‘The Gracefield Incident’ Director Mathieu Ratthe

The Gracefield Incident is a fun and intriguing indie horror film that’s out now. I spoke to the film’s writer/director and star Mathieu Ratthe. Mathieu discusses the concept of the film. The challenges that he faced filming and he answers why we don’t see the monster earlier in the film. All that and more. Here is an excerpt from the interview and the full audio below:

“We shot this film in 13 days, so fast, really fast. I was like how are we gonna do this? So that’s how the conceptual idea of the eye came in. It wasn’t in the script in the first draft. I wasn’t going to be able to do any camera set-up or anything so I was like, alright, I was going to have to put the camera on my shoulder.”  —  Mathieu Ratthe

MY TAKE:

Mathieu is an interesting guy to talk to. He exudes passion for filmmaking. I was surprised to hear a few things he had mentioned. First was that the film shot in 13 days. Even if you aren’t in the know about filmmaking, that sure is fast, or short amount of time to make a film. He started shooting movies since he was 10-years-old, this month marks his 25 year doing this, that’s impressive. I’m amazed that you can become a successful filmmaker without film school, which Ratthe didn’t attend.

I loved the fact that he told me that the reason you don’t see the monster in the film is because he didn’t have the funds to put in in earlier and feature it more in the film. I liked his honesty. I enjoy when filmmakers tell me about stories from the set, in Mathieu’s case, one of them being him switching between the acting and directing which lead him to keep the hat on-screen and even speaking in a different language to the actors.

I enjoyed The Gracefield Incident. You should give it a try. It’s simply in context, but rich on execution and presentation.

‘The Gracefield Incident’ is out and available now in select theaters, Digital HD and On Demand

You can follow me on Twitter @JimRko and @TheReelTalker