Houston trio unite to produce films to empower women

Three local businesswomen had every reason to cheer loudly and proudly as the film, I Dream Too Much, premiered at the 2015 SXSW Film, Music and Interactive Technology Conference in Austin in March.  

Alicia Goodrow, chief execuive officer;  Deborah Kainer, chief financial officer; and Donna Cole, a co-founding manager of Pantheon of Women (POW), dared to dream very big when they launched their film production company here in Houston — outside of the Hollywood sphere of influence — in 2013.

“We are women committed to changing to world, and film is the media of choice of the 21st Century. Everybody is walking around today with their eyes glued to a screen,” Goodrow said. “But, you no longer have to be at a big studio in Los Angeles to produce an outstanding movie.”
 
With film as the media for mass communication, the trio hopes to reach a larger audience with the same kinds of messages they already deliver one-on-one in mentoring local women. They are committed to creating new images in film that influence how women and girls view themselves, as well as showcasing men who are supportive of women. 
 
“This is the time for women to take action –– to do something about showing their stories and hearing their voices on the big screen,” Goodrow added. “If we make a beautiful, well-told story into a movie, we can change millions of lives.”
 
I Dream Too Much is the first film by Pantheon of Women to reach out to that wider audience, starting with three showings in Austin. And, South by Southwest is the perfect place to shop an indie film around to distributors, Cole said.
 
The film stars three-time Academy Award Nominee Diane Ladd;  Eden Brolin, daughter of actor James Brolin; and Danielle Brooks, actress in Orange is the New Black. It is a coming-of-age story about a college student who learns a few life lessons from her reclusive great aunt. 
 
Pantheon of Women is not just looking for stories about strong women, but Goodrow, Kainer and Cole expect to encourage and support women behind the camera in writing and directing roles, as well.  
 
I Dream Too Much is written and directed by Katie Cokinos, whose mentor for the last 20 years has been fellow Texan Richard Linklater, executive producer for this film and recent nominee for the Academy’s Best Director Award for Boyhood. 
 
The producers are open to reading other good scripts, but they are keeping their day jobs as they focus on producing one good film at a time. 
 
Goodrow is an attorney, specializing in corporate finance, commercial agreements and tax planning for the Philips & Reiter law firm. She already had strong ties to the film industry.
 
Kainer is a CPA and the former owner of a certified public accounting firm she sold to a larger firm in Houston four years ago. 
 
Cole brings 34 years of diverse business knowledge and an entrepreneurial spirit to the group as head of Cole Chemical. 
 
It was just “good networking” that brought them all together to work toward a common goal, Cole said.
 
Corporate sponsors of the production company include all three women’s firms, as well as Cregan Design, Decode Digital Marketing, On-Site Partners, Provis HR and YK Creative. 
 
Currently, they are talking to Sarah Byrd, a Texas writer, to develop a film about Cathay Williams, the first African-American woman to enlist and serve in the U.S. Army, posing as a man and Buffalo Soldier. Another project is also under consideration, Cole said, but three projects at a time in various stages of production are more than enough on their plate right now. 
 
“We want to make sure what we do is quality and give it our business best. We want a good return for our investors, as well,” Goodrow said. 
 
While they aren’t able to review 20 scripts a week, Goodrow said she is often able to suggest another direction for projects that might not be right for POW — simply because of time or budget constraints. 
 
The time is right for celebrating women in film, and there is funding available from a variety of sources for female-focused films, Goodrow said, citing the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in the Media, Reese Witherspoon’s Pacific Standard production company and Annapurna Pictures as entities with similar goals. A new film festival focusing on diversity and gender issues will launch in Bentonville, Ark. in May, backed by the Davis Institute. 
 
“There’s been a lot of analysis and research and complaining – in the media and elsewhere –– that women’s voices aren’t heard, and film is a bastion of all-white male perspectives,” Goodrow said. “At some point, people need to take action. Pantheon of Women is about taking action to change things. We won’t be the only ones.”
 
Women have always been the keepers of the stories and the culture, and in so many ways, cinema is the campfire of our society today,” she added. “People go to the cinema and turn on the television set; they watch a movie and, then, they talk about it. They process their reality through the stories that are seen onscreen. It is very important that this dialogue includes women’s voices.”
 
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