Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.

Leola Calzolai-Stewart

The Power of Flow – A Trio of Women Launch a Film Company


Their paths kept crossing until the time was right to launch their brand new, all women-owned company, Flowstate Films

They say timing is everything. That has certainly proven to be true for the three founders of Flowstate Films, Kiley Kraskouskas, Leola Calzolai-Stewart and Rachell (pronounced Rah-shell) Shapiro. Opportunity and timing aligned around their collective values and creative visions when they officially launched Flowstate, in April. The company is the culmination of over ten years as friends and colleagues, working at other production companies.

From the beginning, the award-winning trio realized that they had a shared goal to make films that mattered and had a social impact. Their new Washington, D.C.-based venture brings together their combined 30 years of experience and passion for mission-driven storytelling.


Rachell Shapiro (Photo: Jacqueline Sibanda)

Ahead of this year’s Academy Awards, much was made of Oscar’s whiteness. However, the film industry’s diversity problem goes beyond culture. It is no secret that despite some progress, it is still largely male-dominated. Increasingly frustrated with being overlooked for opportunities that she was as qualified for as male peers, Rachell Shapiro used her frustration as inspiration to start her own business.

She was on the verge of launching when Flowstate was born. “The website was up. I was about to make an announcement. I had even printed my business cards, when Kiley called,” says Shapiro. Shapiro and co-founders Kraskouskas and Calzolai-Stewart discussed their vision for Flowstate at length for over a year. They chose the name because it captures the essence of their creative process and mindful approach to life and business.

Building the business in D.C. made sense, partly because of family roots and other commitments. There is also more to the District for filmmakers than just national monuments and providing topical locations for political series like House of Cards and Scandal. Although D.C.’s film industry is smaller than the better-known film markets in LA and New York, it is still the country’s third largest film market. While the bigger markets are better for networking, there are opportunities in the nation’s capital that are unique to the context—the international community and interest in international affairs.

Kraskouskas used her move to the area after a stint in New York as an opportunity to explore her interest in film. Shapiro hired her as an intern and the rest, as they say, is history. “If I had started my [film] career in New York, I would have been competing against every NYU film student,” says Kraskoukas. “I would never have had a shot,” she adds.

Like Shapiro, Kraskouskas is conscious of the film industry’s gender disparity and in her own career has made an effort to help drive change. As president of Docs in Progress, an organization that provides resources for documentary filmmakers, Kraskouskas used the opportunity to show that good leaders can be female. Kraskouskas has never shied away from speaking up when she sees sexism in the industry.  She credits her father, a business owner who always talked to her like an adult, for raising her to feel like she could do anything.

Nevertheless, the lack of women in the film industry is still cause for concern. “I do worry that as we go out and interface with clients, we will have to deal with the inherent bias that people have,” Kraskouskas says. “They simply expect to see a man walk in.”

Calzolai-Stewart started her career in international relations. After successfully passing the U.S. foreign service exam the first time (three quarters of people who take the exam each year fail), her husband was posted to South Africa.

The Tufts University alumnus used the opportunity to step out of her comfort zone to explore her long-held interest in film. Not quite sure what she wanted to do in the industry, she enrolled at a local college and interned at various production companies in Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest city.

On her return to Washington, Calzolai-Stewart met Shapiro and Kraskouskas through work. She and Kraskouskas went on to collaborate on the award-winning independent documentary, The Last Song before the War. The film documents Mali’s annual Festival in the Desert, as its future is threatened by economic and political unrest in the West African country.

This summer she will lead the production of Flowstate’s first documentary project, Black Diplomacy, which explores the overlooked history and struggle of unsung black diplomats in the post-World War II era. The film has already attracted Emmy winner and Academy Award nominee, Sam Pollard, as executive producer. Pollard’s previous credits include Spike Lee’s When the Levees Broke and Jungle Fever.

Besides full-length, independent documentaries, Flowstate Films will also be creating branded, client-based content. The three principals have recently worked with a diverse array of organizations including, The George Washington University, BAE Systems and Big Picture Media, producing films and video geared toward advertising elements.

Top photo: Kiley Kraskouskas, right. (Photo: Docs in Progress)

Learn more about Flowstate Films on its website.
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