Film company seeks to empower, mentor women

Blog Post created by robin.dupre Champion on Nov 14, 2015

Film company seeks to empower, mentor women - Houston Chronicle  

One day after a business meeting, Donna Cole and Alicia Goodrow were casually talking about changing the world.

The two shared their dreams of impacting millions with positive messages about women. Because they both loved movies, they came up with the idea to start a film company, Pantheon of Women, to produce independent films that celebrate strong women and supportive men.

It's a bit of a departure from their high-powered careers. Cole is the CEO and founder of Cole Chemicals, a chemical-supply-chain management firm that she started in 1990. Goodrow is an attorney who has worked with Cross Creek Pictures, which has produced films such as "Black Swan." They also recruited Deborah Kainer, a longtime certified public accountant, to the team.

"If you have a great movie, you can empower millions and mentor thousands. We can change the way men and boys treat women and how women and girls see themselves," Cole said.

At 7:30 p.m. Sunday, their first film - "I Dream Too Much" - will be shown at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston as part of the annual Cinema Arts Festival; the film's showing is sold out.

The movie, which stars Diane Ladd and Eden Brolin, daughter of actor Josh Brolin, is written and directed by Houston native Katie Cokinos. Danielle Brooks of Netflix's "Orange Is the New Black" also stars, and "Boyhood" director Richard Linklater is the executive producer.

Already it has been shown at South By Southwest and at the New Orleans Film Festival. The film focuses on recent college graduate Dora (Brolin), who finds herself caring for her reclusive aunt (Ladd) in upstate New York.

Cole said the movie cost about $1 million to make, and her group is its largest investor.

"I think the movie will translate to everyone because it's about three generations of women who make dreams come true," Cole said. "Normally, dreams don't come true on your own, you need help - mentors and other women."

According to a report by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, about 30 percent of speaking roles in films are held by women in the United States, which lags last globally, behind countries such as Brazil and Korea. The report, drawn from data gathered from the Motion Picture Association of America, also said that of 1,452 filmmakers, only 20 percent are female.

The report also said that female characters, between ages 13 and 39, were likely to be shown in sexy attire, partially or fully naked, and/or referred to as "beautiful."

Those statistics are among the many reasons Pantheon is needed, Goodrow said.

"Women were the keeper of stories, until men figure out they could make money in the business," Goodrow said.

By the 1980s and 1990s, there was a resurgence of women in film, with Nora Ephron's "When Harry Met Sally" and "Sleepless in Seattle," but big-blockbuster films eventually became the norm, Goodrow said.

"It's a lot riskier to make a movie for a smaller audience than one that will translate to many, but it's really our calling as women to tell stories and transmit wisdom," she said.

Pantheon of Women's next film is "Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen," about Cathay Williams, the first African-American female to enlist and serve in the U.S. Army and the only female Buffalo Soldier. They hope to shoot the film in Texas; it is expected to cost $6 million to make.

"The industry is terrified of films about black people, about Westerns and about women, and this is a Western about a black woman," Goodrow said.

While the Pantheon team members know they are industry newbies, they believe their business expertise and their passion for films work in their favor.

"We're all proven businesswomen and spend time mentoring and paying it forward," Goodrow said. "We've spent time observing the gender bias in the media, and I want to do something different. If it's a great movie, people will go see it."

Kainer said that after years working as an accountant, she didn't realize the extent to which gender bias still existed in Hollywood.

"I thought after 40 years of working, things had changed. I just plowed ahead, so I was shocked to find out that there's work to still be done."

The Pantheon of Women is also actively involved in getting out the word about their film projects.

"It's one thing to make a movie and another thing to get it marketed and getting it in film festivals," Cole said. "Social media is really important. I'm tweeting now."

Joy Sewing

Joy Sewing

Fashion & Beauty Editor, Houston Chronicle

Film company seeks to empower, mentor women - Houston Chronicle