Local Film Big Sonia Nears End of Theatrical Run

The documentary about a Holocaust survivor from Overland Park is still showing at Glenwood Arts Theatre nearly a month after its local premiere.


   Sonia Warshawski may be a tailor by trade, but she’s become a local star. The 92-year-old from Overland Park is the namesake of the documentary Big Sonia, and that’s her on the movie poster.

   The film that bears her name has been extended again at Glenwood Arts Theatre, where it set the record for 2017 sales against high-budget and nationally renowned features. Big Sonia now runs through Jan. 11.

   “Sonia has always wanted to be a movie star,” Leah Warshawski, her granddaughter and the film’s producer, said in an audience Q&A after a showing on Thursday.

    But while Sonia initially thought her granddaughter’s film was about her, she realized it meant much more after she saw it. Big Sonia traces Sonia’s activism as one of the last Holocaust survivors in the Kansas City area, along with her fight to keep her late husband’s tailoring shop open. To Regina Kort, Sonia’s middle child who accompanies her to speaking engagements, the documentary is about hope.

    “The movie is very uplifting,” Kort says. “It gives everybody hope. Hope in humanity and our future.”

    Leah Warshawski began working on the film seven years ago with her husband, who she shares a co-director credit with. They had little trouble getting Sonia on board — aside from being Leah’s grandmother, Sonia is the only Kansas City area Holocaust survivor who speaks publicly about her experience. She does interviews, talks to schools and has worked with the Lansing Correctional Facility. She wants to spread awareness of what happened to her as a teenager, when she was removed from her home in Poland at 13, later watched her mother leave for a gas chamber, and was shot by an SS guard at Auschwitz on liberation day.

    Although she helps her mom recount her experience during the Holocaust, Kort did not want to be involved in the film. Her father, John Warshawski, was also a Holocaust survivor. Growing up in that household was sometimes difficult for Kort and her siblings — her older brother, Morrie Warshawski, calls it “a burden and a gift” in the film. But all three of Sonia’s children did interviews for Big Sonia, and it was worth it.

   “After seeing the finished product, I think all three of us are glad that we were in it,” Kort said in the Q&A.

    In addition to chronicling Sonia Warshawski’s Holocaust experience and her family relationships, Big Sonia focuses on John’s Tailoring & Alterations, the shop Sonia now runs. Leah Warshawski initially wanted to make a short film just about the shop, which was housed in the Metcalf South Shopping Center until that closed in 2014. Sonia keeps the store open six days a week, now in a new location, which continues to give her something to look forward to. “I feel alive,” she says in the documentary about her work.

   Since it opened at Glenwood Arts on Dec. 1, Big Sonia has sold well over 10,000 tickets. This is its second theatrical extension at Glenwood Arts, after it was initially slated to leave on Dec. 28 and held through Jan. 4.

    The film is also in small theaters across the country, but Leah Warshawski is now focusing elsewhere. She’s trying to schedule hundreds of community showings at churches and community centers, and she already has over 60 on the books. Additionally, she and the team want every school in Kansas to be able to teach Big Sonia. Educational copies of the film will be ready in a few weeks, and Leah says she already has five schools confirmed.

   With the film leaving theaters in Kansas City soon, though, Leah Warshawski says now is a great time to experience Big Sonia’s message of hope.

   “It’s the perfect movie to see around the holidays,” she says. “Once it’s gone from this theater, it’s not going to be back in theaters in Kansas City most likely, so this is the time to do it.”