What is your life’s purpose ?
To live with authenticity and integrity and to promote healing and alternate viewpoints through filmmaking.
How are you living your purpose?
I’m a first-born over-achiever, but even my best intentions don’t work all the time! I remind myself every day that I will never get the day back, and when I feel too “comfortable” I try to seek out situations that take me out of my comfort zone – because I know this is how we grow. I feel like I still have so much to learn…
As a filmmaker, I have the unique opportunity to experience different cultures and countries and learn new information almost every day. My first feature film (Finding Hillywood) took me to Rwanda to document the Hillywood Film Festival where we met a group of filmmakers working very hard to build their “film economy.” The friends we met during production remain our “family” and I feel privileged to have spent time in East Africa learning about how people live on the other side of the world. I was looking for a challenge, and wanted to get out of my comfort zone, and Finding Hillywood helped me discover my own purpose during the course of making the film.
My current feature documentary Big Sonia is much more personal since the main subject (Sonia) is my grandmother. Sonia is a 91-year old Holocaust survivor, Diva and business owner who lives in suburban Kansas City. I knew the film would be emotionally draining and challenging on many levels, but I didn’t shy away from the challenge. Producing Big Sonia over the last 6 years, has enabled me to spend more time with my family than I ever did growing up, which has been a huge blessing. And, during the course of production, my husband helped me see that the only way I could tell this difficult story was to use my job (or the camera) to provide “distance” between myself and the subjects. I realize now that perhaps I was perfectly suited to tell my family’s story…from behind the camera. The film has opened up new conversations—and healing—within my own family and it helped me validate my own purpose in the world to promote healing and empathy.
What advice do you have for purpose seekers?
I believe you only find your purpose when you’re not actively looking for it. Purpose is a culmination of the challenges you have to overcome…
Spend time by yourself. Sleep outside. Do something “hard” every day. LISTEN. Challenge yourself. Consult with people you trust. Find mentors and mentor others. Show up early. Always.
What resources do you recommend?
The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Carlton Abrams
You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero.
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson and Roger Wayne
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
Contact Leah Warshawski
Instagram: leahwar & bigsoniamovie
Leah Warshawski is a director, producer, and adventure-seeker who lives mostly out of her suitcase. Her career in film began in Hawaii working in the marine department for shows like LOST and HAWAII, where she learned from some of the most experienced and humble Watermen on the planet. Her first feature film, FINDING HILLYWOOD (2013) profiles the beginning of the film industry in Rwanda and screened at more than 70 film festivals around the world. In tandem with the film’s release, she co-founded rwandafilm.org a “LinkedIn” for Rwandan filmmakers to help find work in the industry, supported by Bpeace and The Academy of Motion Pictures. Leah’s most recent documentary (BIG SONIA, 2016) is more personal, and features her 91-year old grandmother Sonia – “national treasure”, Holocaust survivor, and Diva. Leah’s personal journey (over six years of production) is the inspiration for her recent TedX Talk called “How Do We Cope with the Trauma We Didn’t Experience?” Leah is also the co-executive producer for the feature documentary PERSONHOOD (2017-18). Leah values authenticity, loyalty, grit, and gratitude. When she’s not on a plane, you can find her sitting in patch of sunlight, dreaming of whales. For a full credit list, please visit IMDB.
Leah trusts her vulnerability, an extraordinary quality. She never wears a mask. Wherever she is, she fully is. She is determined to do whatever it takes to do what she needs to do. I am constantly awed by her perseverance, her willingness to reward those who grapple with life in raw, real and relevant ways. I always look forward to being in her presence and to witness how her deeply felt values are always in play. She is very important to me.
Thank you SuEllen – YOU are someone I look up to and hope to be like… You inspire me to be kind and compassionate. Thank you for being an unwavering force in my life.
This is an inspiring wake up call. Thank you, Leah. Your wisdom is well beyond your years!
Still so much to learn! Thank you for your love and support Debbie – you show me how to laugh at the big, and small things. I love you!
Very inspiring. Big Sonia is a truly inspirational film. Wonderful to learn more about the filmmaker and her mission. Bravo!