A young woman runs away from familial pressures to attend law school and begins to discover her voice in a very unlikely place not too far from home. This is the fictional story of Dora in the independent film I Dream Too Much.
But go back a few decades, and you'll find a young woman growing up in Beaumont and falling in love with movies. After graduating from Texas A&M, her love of films still strong, she runs away from the pressure to become a lawyer, instead finding her voice in Houston and later amid the wilds of Austin. This, not so coincidentally, is the real-life story of I Dream Too Much director Katie Cokinos.
We talked with Cokinos before she embarked on a rather unique journey to promote her first feature film. She’s coming home to tour the film in several Texas cities, hosting special screenings in Beaumont, Houston, Dallas, and Austin.
I Dream Too Much stars Eden Brolin as Dora and three-time Oscar nominee Diane Ladd as her cranky but complex Aunt Vera. Trying to avoid her mother’s hints about law school, Dora moves in with her Aunt Vera, who is recovering from a broken foot. While Dora dreams about, and meddles in, the lives of Vera and the quirky locals she meets, she begins to find her own path.
Though there are only a few similarities between the fictional Dora and Cokinos’ own story, the drive to find one’s identity as a creative woman in the world does appear to be a big commonality in Cokinos’ personal history and her film.
“I was supposed to go to law school but decided to pursue film,” Cokinos says. “I moved to Houston and started working at the Southwest Alternate Media Project (SWAMP). That was just one of the best things I ever did. It was there that I saw every level of film.”
At SWAMP, Cokinos did the important behind-the-scenes work that allows filmmakers to realize their vision, from helping them get grant funding to distribution and planning conferences. While there, she also met Eagle Pennell and Richard Linklater. She ended up doing producing duty on Pennell’s 1990 film, Heart Full of Soul, and was a publicist for Linklater’s cult classic Slacker. As Linklater became more tied to completing and then taking Slacker to film festivals, he had less time to run the Austin Film Society and suggested the job to Cokinos.
“Austin seemed like a smaller film community where things were happening on a different level, and I really wanted to be a part of it,” she explains.
In Austin, she became even more involved in filmmaking as a location scout and manager for several Texas-set movies like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation and What's Eating Gilbert Grape. Learning as she worked on these big productions also helped her pay the bills while she wrote and directed her own short films.
Alex Rappaport, the cinematographer on her first featurette, Portrait of a Girl as a Young Cat, soon became her husband. They moved to New York to raise a family, but Cokinos continued to write screenplays, including I Dream Too Much.
A personal direction
Cokinos says there was no doubt she would direct this project, because the film is so personal to her. With a self-deprecating laugh she also confesses she didn’t know that anyone else would have wanted to direct the light coming of age story that contains little angst and no dystopian landscapes.
“I really wanted to make a modernize[d] Jane Austen story. In the back of my head I kept thinking, what if it’s Jane Austen 2016, without zombies.”
While there are definitely modernized Austen elements in the story, there is no romance in either the classic or chick-flick sense. Dora isn’t vying for the attention of a man, and the only love triangle mentioned happens decades before her birth and involves her wise yet cynical Aunt Vera.
It's unique to find a film about a young woman who is not caught up in a romance. Cokinos explains it's a quality Linklater liked about the script and is perhaps one of the reasons he chose to become executive producer.
“It never was about Dora falling in love,” she says. “That’s a type of coming of age, but that wasn’t the coming of age film I wanted to show. I wanted to show her interior, finding her voice, and finding herself amid family and societal pressure. She’s just coming out of college, and for me that was one of the hardest transitions I ever went through.”
This trip home to promote I Dream Too Much might also bring her a step closer to her second film. Cokinos is very excited about the recently published Beaumont-set novel The Do-Right by Texas native Lisa Sandlin. She’s in the midst of optioning the book and is about to get to work adapting it to a screenplay.
“Beaumont is in my blood,” she confesses, laughing. “I’ve always wanted to make a film in Beaumont.”
Cokinos will be present with Richard Linklater at a special screening of I Dream Too Much on Wednesday, July 13 at AFS Cinema.