Seattle-based filmmaker Leah Warshawski, whose previous effort, “Finding Hillywood,” dealt with Rwanda’s fledgling movie industry, didn’t have to venture as far afield for her next project — she found plenty of inspiration in her grandmother, a Polish Holocaust survivor who, now 91, still works six days a week tending to her tiny tailoring shop.
The resulting “Big Sonia,” co-directed with Todd Soliday, is a tenderly rendered inspirational piece about the healing power of forging human connections that wisely maintains its focus on its spirited, stylish main subject.
When Sonia Warshawski’s not driving to the otherwise abandoned Kansas City mall that houses the warm, clubby establishment opened by her late husband, John, more than 30 years ago, she can be found in schools and correctional institutions speaking of the atrocities she had long refused to discuss.
While it’s undeniably moving witnessing a group of inmates being brought to tears by Sonia’s horrific memories as a teenager in several concentration camps, it’s ultimately her outlook (The Optimist’s Creed is displayed prominently next to her sewing machines) that strikes such a chord with her captive audience.
Seeing Sonia confidently gripping the leopard print-covered steering wheel of her late model Oldsmobile and getting on with her day serves as a potent and especially timely lesson about living a compassionate, vibrant life that doesn’t have any room for hatred and bitterness.
Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills; Laemmle Town Center 5, Encino