Interview with Leah Warshawski, director of Big Sonia (2017)
By Livia Peterson
Leave it to Livia was able to speak with Leah Warshawski, director of Big Sonia and we discuss the film.
Livia Peterson: Big Sonia briefly premiered at the Milwaukee Film Festival. I wasn't able to attend the film at the festival, but attended it at the Times Cinema four months later. How was the film's reception at the festival? Did you enjoy your experience in Milwaukee?
Leah Warshawski: I loved the Milwaukee Film Festival and we received a warm reception for Big Sonia and packed all of our screenings! I also met a lot of educators who will hopefully use the film in their classrooms now that we have an educational version and curriculum materials.
LP: I believe this is your second feature film as a director. Who are some influencers in your work?
LW: That’s right, our first feature Finding Hillywood is available on iTunes, Amazon, Hulu, etc. I’m influenced by a lot of other storytellers, filmmakers and adventure-seekers. I’m influenced by nature and the beauty all around us, and I’m influenced by mentors and supporters over the last 20 years who are the REASON I am where I am.
LP: What inspired you to produce a film about your grandmother Sonia?
LW: We actually set out to make a short film about Sonia’s shop “John’s Tailoring” and at the time Sonia was 85. We didn’t know how long she’d stay healthy so we decided to start filming right away. We had no idea the film would become a feature and take 7 years to make!
LP: What was the most difficult part of making the film?
LW: Nothing about making Big Sonia has been easy. We’ve struggled for 7 years to raise enough money to finish the project - and we’re still raising money to market the film and get it to as many communities as possible. Fundraising is the hardest part for most documentaries and ours is no exception.
LP: You incorporated animated Holocaust re-enactment scenes. Why did you select animated over live action re-enactment scenes?
LW: We decided on Day 1 that we didn’t want to use archival footage of the Holocaust. We wanted to reach a broader - and younger - audience and we’ve seen archival footage in so many other films.
We worked with a talented graphic artist- illustrator from Kansas City, Rachel Ignotofsky, and an animator in Seattle - Dawn Norton. Then we spent a week at Skywalker Sound optimizing these scenes for a 7.1 surround environment to make them powerful and emotional. The sound design plays a big part in the animated sequences and we’re very proud of the way they turned out. We hear parents say that they “force you to watch and not turn away” and we are reaching a younger audience, which has always been our goal. These scenes are also more personal because they’re narrated by Sonia.
LP: The original score by Brad Anthony Laina is incredible. How does the music selection play a major role to Sonia's story?
LW: The music plays a big role in the film - almost as another “character”. We wanted to create something that was both “old-world” and modern so that all audiences could relate. We didn’t want to use traditional Klezmer music and needed to keep the balance within the film of sad and happy moments. We’re so lucky and honored that Brad chose to work with us - and we love the soundtrack! It’s now available on our website as well here.
LP: What are your future projects?
LW: We’ll spend the next year marketing and distributing Big Sonia. We’re looking for new projects! See some of our other work here.
Thank you for speaking with me, Leah!