By Janice Convoy-Hellmann
There’s a reason why “Big Sonia” won the prize for best documentary and the audience award at the Napa Valley Film Festival and has been nominated for best documentary in AARP’s Movies for Grownups Awards: It’s a charming and emotionally moving film, much like the woman it highlights.
Sonia Warshawski, the elderly yet fiercely independent Holocaust survivor depicted in the film, is big only in terms of the impact she makes. She’s a petite seamstress of Polish descent who realized late in life that her personal stories of persecution and resilience were part of the reason she survived, so she bore witness to help others.
The documentary — made by Sonia’s granddaughter Leah Warshawski and Leah’s husband, Todd Soliday — follows the 91-year-old on some of her speaking engagements with high school students and incarcerated men. Those talks are juxtaposed with the conversations she has with the loyal customers of her tailor shop, and you begin to understand how this “little, old woman” has touched so many lives.
The film’s occasional animation, interviews with her children and friends, and focus on her unique sense of style, including a fondness for leopard print, all serve to humanize Sonia and engage the viewer.
This is not like any other Holocaust survivor film you’ve seen, and, if you’re like me, you’re not likely to forget “Big Sonia” any time soon.