Big Sonia

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USA | 2016 | 90 minutes | Leah Warshawski, Todd Soliday

Diva. Enigma. Holocaust survivor. Meet 90-year-old Kansas City tailor-shop owner Sonia Warshawski. She may be just shy of five feet tall, but her enormous, sparkling personality and stirring stories of survival have earned her the nickname "Big Sonia."

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At 4'8", Sonia Warshawski can barely see over the leopard-skin-patterned steering wheel of her Oldsmobile. But at age 90, Sonia has a personality that towers over her Kansas City community, where she has tirelessly run her late husband's tailoring business for decades. The shop, John's Tailoring, is the last business left operating in a lonely corner of a dying shopping mall, but for Sonia it's the vibrant center of her long, eventful life. Every day she faces the threat of eviction, but Sonia has had experience with escaping finality: As one of the last remaining Holocaust survivors in Kansas City, she witnessed the unspeakable horror of her mother disappearing behind the doors of a Nazi gas chamber; after being force-marched from one death camp to another, Sonia was finally liberated only to be shot accidentally through the chest—and yet she survived. Today she still dispenses positive life lessons (known as "Soniaisms") to anyone who'll listen, and also speaks to local churches, schools, and prisons about the atrocities she endured as a teenager. Husband-and-wife filmmakers Todd Soliday and Leah Warshawski (Sonia's granddaughter) tell Sonia's story in this moving and uplifting documentary that interweaves first-person narratives with memories from family and friends. "Big Sonia" may struggle to face her latest daunting challenge—retirement—but she's certainly doing it in style.

Director Biographies
Leah Warshawski is a director and producer who specializes in creating documentary-style content. Her interest in global issues and identity shaped her debut documentary Finding Hillywood (SIFF 2013), which focuses on the Rwandan film industry. A member of the Seattle film community, she returns to SIFF 2016 with the world premiere of her second documentary feature, Big Sonia.

Todd Soliday is an Emmy Award-winning director and editor based in Seattle. His television and film projects have allowed him to work around the world, including Rwanda, working alongside his wife Leah Warshawski, as post-production supervisor for Finding Hillywood.

Sponsored by Shoreline Community College, 4Culture, Seattle Office of Arts & Culture, Washington State Arts Commission, National Endowment for the Arts, CityArts, Seattle Weekly, Women In Film/Seattle

  • Director: Leah Warshawski, Todd Soliday
  • Principal Cast: Sonia Warshawski
  • Premiere Status: Work-in-Progress
  • Country: USA
  • Year: 2016
  • Running Time: 90 minutes
  • Producer: Leah Warshawski
  • Cinematographers: Todd Soliday
  • Editors: Todd Soliday, Doug Loviska, Eric Frith
  • Music: Bradley Anthony Laina
  • Website: Official Film Website
  • Filmography: WARSHAWSKI: Finding Hillywood (doc, 2013); SOLIDAY: Platinum (doc, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • Format: BluRay