As an independent film producer, Liz Cardenas must constantly find a balance between creative freedom and overcoming financial challenges.
The Dallas native is perhaps best known for her collaborations with local filmmakers David Lowery and Augustine Frizzell, on the former’s A Ghost Story and the latter’s Never Goin’ Back.
More recently, however, Cardenas has enjoyed a breakthrough with back-to-back projects filmed during the pandemic—the lockdown romantic comedy 7 Days won a Film Independent Spirit Award, while character-driven drama Acidman took the Grand Jury Prize at last year’s Dallas International Film Festival.
Those efforts, both of which were acquired for theatrical distribution, earned Cardenas a producing award nomination at the Independent Spirit Awards this year, which honors tenacity with limited resources.
She will share some insights in a free workshop, “Finding the Right Producer for Your Film,” sponsored by the Dallas Film and Creative Industries Office, on Tuesday at the Texas Theatre.
“I try really hard to make these small films seem bigger. It’s difficult but it’s so rewarding,” Cardenas said. “Audiences are craving real stories that are heartfelt and truthful, comforting to them or shedding light on things. It means so much that audiences and film festivals support the film.”
Acidman, which is now playing on demand, intimately explores how adult children view the mental deterioration of their aging parents. The film is a passion project for director Alex Lehmann (Meet Cute), loosely based on his relationship with his own father and with a recluse in the town where he grew up.
Maggie (Dianna Agron) tracks down her estranged father (Thomas Haden Church) who lives off the grid. Trying to reconnect, she’s alarmed to discover he’s a conspiracy theorist obsessed with flickering lights in the distance and trying to communicate with aliens. Eventually, Maggie must decide whether to diagnose his mental health or embrace his eccentricities.
“I loved the script and wanted to be a part of it,” Cardenas said. “These characters are so relatable and so human.”
Although it was shot primarily on two hemp farms in southern Oregon, the film features plenty of Dallas-area talent, including co-writer Chris Dowling, editor Courtney Ware, and Church, who lived in Dallas in the 1980s.
“We filmed like a family, which brings so much to the film,” said Cardenas, who oversaw the entire production. “The love and the camaraderie translates to the screen.”
Cardenas was born in Chicago but spent her formative years in Dallas. After breaking into films primarily as an actress, she has shifted most of her attention to producing. Now splitting her time between Dallas and Los Angeles, she still works on both sides of the camera.
“I feel like it shaped my identity and this independent spirit that I have,” she said of her Texas upbringing. She admits being an indie producer “is a tough road, but I get a lot of fulfillment from it.”
Cardenas has multiple films in various stages of production that could start festival runs later this year. She is also developing a feature she plans to direct alongside Greta Zozula, the cinematographer on Never Goin’ Back.
“I get inspired really easily and I’m a curious person by nature,” she said. “I love the collaborative nature of filmmaking.”