The Heartwarming Father-Daughter Story Behind a Riveting New Thriller

Young Filmmaker Maria Gabriela Cardenas directed her father, Oscar Cardenas, in 'A Dark Foe.'

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Vertical Entertainment

A Dark Foe isn’t family fare, but it is a family affair. The twisty, violent thriller, which will launch July 30 in theaters and on VOD, comes from the Venezuelan daughter-father duo Maria Gabriela Cardenas and Oscar Cardenas. They co-wrote and co-produced it together, with 27-year-old Maria settling into the director’s chair for her first feature, and Oscar serving as the film’s leading man. His character, Tony Cruz, is a guilt-ridden FBI agent determined – even borderline obsessed — with locating his long-missing sister and nabbing the psychopath who killed his mother. Complicating the situation, Tony’s childhood trauma evolved into nyctophobia, and an irrational fear of the dark. And to get the answers he seeks, Tony must spend considerable time immersed in physical and emotional darkness, and in the company of some seriously disturbed people, including the man (Graham Greene) who ruined his life years ago. Fatherly recently engaged Maria and Oscar in a joint Zoom call, during which they discussed their daughter-father dynamic, shed some light on A Dark Foe, and revealed that they’re planning to work together again soon.

Oscar, how would you describe Maria as a child? And, Maria, when you were growing up, what kind of a dad was Oscar? Fun? Strict? Supportive?Maria: I would describe him as hardworking, workaholic and passionate.And Oscar?Oscar: I will say that she was really smart and… stubborn. It was hard for me to give her directions.Who else was in the family picture?Maria: There are six of us. And my mom. She recently passed away, though. But, yeah, we’re a big family.Did your mom live to see the film?Maria: Yes, she did.That’s great. We’ll talk a little bit more about that later. Oscar, you’ve acted and done other jobs. What were you doing when you lived in Venezuela?Oscar: I was working in sales. I used to be a theater actor, for a while in Venezuela, and also I did TV. But those shows and the plays that I was doing, the roles that I was receiving… I needed to survive. I had a big family and I had to earn my living. So, I started working with my dad. He had his company, and then we started together. And… how do I say it? Life went on, and suddenly, the (kids) were big, because I got married at a really young age. Then, Maria, she went to Los Angeles (in 2012). She was doing her thing, doing films, and started shooting short films. She knew that I was a passionate actor, that I loved it, that it was my dream since I was a kid. She told me, “Why don’t you jump in and do this again? Why don’t you join me?” And I started shooting some short films (with Maria), and one of them did really good. It got accepted at the Cannes Film Festival. I knew that I loved it, so I decided, “Okay, so I’ll start over again.”Maria, what did you see in your dad as an actor? Why did you want him to act in your films?Maria: I just saw how driven he was and how passionate he was about films. He taught me about movies. When I started pursuing it as a filmmaker after coming here, doing short films and getting my hands dirty in the film industry, I knew that it was my dad’s dream for all his life. And I love how close we are because of the films. I thought it was the perfect idea to start working together because we have such a strong bond. And this made us even closer.How did A Dark Foe evolve?Maria: Since we work together so much, we’ve always been writing stories, like small stories. One day, my father came to me with the idea of A Dark Foe, this tortured FBI agent that carries this guilt. I told him, “Let’s do it. We have to do it, but as a big picture now.” I thought we were ready. From there, we started doing a lot of FaceTime and writing the story. It took us a while. Soon after, we hired a producer that I worked with a long time ago. Her name is Amy Williams. She helped us so much with bringing casting together, like Selma Blair (who plays Tony’s therapist). I met both of them a long time ago doing Mothers And Daughters. I was a P.A. (production assistant) on that. Oscar: Things take time. Everything in life, it’s one step, then a second step. A Dark Foe, it started as an idea, and then we started doing drafts. We knew what was going to be the end, and then we started from the beginning, how we wanted to move the story forward. We had a solid draft, and then we started raising financing. Friends, family, the friend of a friend. Like I said, things took time. But we never stopped. We had this dream. We had this vision. We decided to do it no matter how long it took. Something I do want to tell you is, when we wrote it, we always had in mind Graham Greene to play the role of this psychopath. He’s done 100-plus films and he’s always been the good guy. He’s a really, really good actor. We sent the screenplay to his agent and, like two days after that, he said he’s going to do it. He said, in his own words, “This is a very crazy, weird story.” We were thrilled. And then came Selma and Bill Bellamy and Glenn Morshower. It then started to flow really smoothly. And here we are. How did the shoot go?Maria: It was great. It was intense days. We had 28 days and so many locations and so many things to do that it was nonstop, no sleep, working every day. But for me, up until today, I feel like it’s still a dream. I feel so grateful. I think of those memories of being on set and I say to myself, “Wow, I did that.” Working with actors is my favorite thing in the world, coming together to collaborate and seeing this story come to life every day on set, seeing how the actors portray their characters, how the camera moves… It’s the adrenaline of being on set. Well, another experience, I would say, is I was 23, turning 24 when we shot it. Being a female director, and young, I did have some issues, at the beginning of the shoot. People were a little skeptical. We hired a lot of experienced people, because we wanted the best of the best to have this be the best it can be. They saw it was my first feature and, at the beginning, were like, “Hmmm, I don’t know if I can trust her.” But as the days went by, I did see that they were able to trust me and the process of the story. So, it turned out really good in the end.Oscar, you’re the leading man, co-writer, and co-producer. Maria, you’re the director, co-writer, and co-producer. On set, when a decision had to be made, who was the boss?Oscar: Let me answer that. I think… It’s not “I think.” We were all following her vision. I moved a switch and said, “I’ve got to be just the actor. I’m going to let myself be directed. She knows what she wants.” We, the actors, contributed our ideas, but at the end of the day, all the cast and crew members, we felt we were doing something special, that we were creating art. And we all put a lot of effort into it. So, it was a collective effort and the feeling of camaraderie on set was amazing. Maria: I was really focused when we were on set on the directing. If things went wrong, we had Amy, our other producer. She was like, “Okay, I’ll handle it.” So, she was definitely a big part in helping us.Taking into account the pandemic, it’s nearly five years since you began working on A Dark Foe. You’re about to cross the finish line with the film playing in theaters and on VOD. What’s running through your mind?Maria: I’m just excited and ready to hear everyone’s opinion on A Dark Foe. It’s definitely a different film. We have a lot of noir elements and we took a lot of risks in certain parts of the film. I just hope people enjoy the ride. We worked so hard, and it’s time for everyone to see it.What’s next for your production company, Path of Thorns Entertainment?Oscar: We’re developing two ideas. One of them is called, tentatively, The Bus. It’s a horror film. And the other is called The Man with the Lion Face. They’re both early stages. We’re developing the screenplays as we speak. Maria, what did you learn from making A Dark Foe, and what do you hope your success so far with the film will mean for the next young woman coming up behind you?Maria: Well, I learned so much doing this feature, but I would say that my message to young female directors — or to anyone — is that the only person standing in your way is you. You just have to believe in your project and don’t have to let anyone’s opinion get to you. You just have to get after it, no matter the outcome, and believe in your project, your passion, and find people who believe in you. If it doesn’t happen the first time, just continue until it happens.Maria, you mentioned that you lost your mom not too long ago. What did it mean to you that she was able to see the film? How proud of you both was she that you did this film together?Maria: Oh, she was so proud. After the movie, she was crying and saying, “Oh, I’m so proud of you.” I’m sure she’s up there extremely happy and celebrating with us.Oscar: She was really a great mother. She really enjoyed the film. She even helped us to create the subtitles for the Spanish language. She was really excited when she watched the film. She must be happy right now.A Dark Foe will open on Friday, July 30 in theaters and VOD. Visit the official site for additional details.

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