Loading Doc: Black Businesses and Big Sonia
August 3, 2016 by Todd Lillethun
Detroit-based producer/director Anthony Brogdon is in post-production on the documentary BUSINESS IN THE BLACK, which charts the history of black businesses in the U.S. from 1800 through the 1960s. Using interviews and photographs, the film describes how African American communities struggled to access basic goods and services in order to survive, and eventually found ways to become self-sufficient through their own commercial enterprise. Stories from Detroit are featured prominently, where African-Americans ran their own schools, hospitals, cab companies, grocery stores, and cemeteries, and where their successes became models for commercial development in cities such as Chicago and Cleveland. Anthony says, “We were enterprising, smart, and able to find ways to make a better life, and to support one another.” This is Anthony’s second feature film; his first, THE GREAT DETROIT (2014), took three years to make and was self-distributed, mostly through four-walling in other cities, and he plans on a similar distribution plan for this film. As a businessman himself, Anthony runs his own company called Multi Business Concepts, and his experience as an entrepreneur were partly what inspired him to tell this story.
Directors Leah Warshawski and Todd Soliday are finishing post-production on the feature documentary BIG SONIA, about a 90 year-old woman who runs a small tailor shop in an otherwise vacant mall in Kansas City, Missouri. As a holocaust survivor and a businesswoman for over 35 years, Sonia makes a big impression on everyone who walks in the door, whether they need a stitch or two, or just simple advice. When the mall is eventually sold, she must face closing the shop, and saying goodbye to what has become a community gathering spot. Leah explains, “Sonia is my grandmother on my father’s side. But making BIG SONIA is the most time we’ve ever spent together - since I grew up in St. Louis I never spent much time with Sonia until we decided to make the film. We also thought 'John’s Tailoring' would be the perfect backdrop for a reality show, but it wasn’t until my husband and co-director, Todd Soliday, met Sonia for the first time that we knew we needed to make a film. Sonia’s energy and enthusiasm for life is contagious and she draws you in to a much larger story.” The film has been in production for over six years. Working through their company Inflatable Film, Leah and Todd are based in Seattle, WA and Sun Valley, ID, but most of their crew lives in the Kansas City area. The film has garnered a lot of support from the community, partly due to Sonia’s reputation, as well from foundations across the country.
Todd Lillethun is a freelance producer and editor at Flicker Effects and student advisor at Northwestern University's MFA program for Documentary Media.