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By Gary Alan Ruse, Miami's Community Newspapers writer

Local independent filmmaker Gabriel Rhenals hosted an advance screening of his new feature film State v. Unknown at the Kendall Branch Library auditorium on Saturday, Jan. 21.

A Kendall resident for nearly 30 years, Rhenals has written, produced, directed, shot and edited 16 short films and two feature films. He also has written five feature-length screenplays.

Born in Boston, MA in 1986, he moved with his family to Miami, Florida in 1994. Throughout his K-12 education, Rhenals’ parents enrolled him in various visual art programs. In high school he attended New World School of the Arts in Downtown Miami.

He then attended the limited-access Film (BFA) program at the University of Central Florida in Orlando and later received his bachelor’s degree in Communication Arts from Florida International University in Miami, graduating cum laude.

State v. Unknown, his second feature film, has a cast of 53 actors, with a few family members and friends included for good measure. It seems at first to be a look into a dystopian near future, a cautionary tale about big government keeping an eye on its citizens, but as the story unfolds, we learn that it has quite a different message.

“While I’m somewhat averse to condensing the thrust or message of any film of mine to a simple statement, I will say that the film presents both the brimming bliss and potential peril of single-mindedly mobilizing one’s talents and resources in service of a grand, personal ambition,” Rhenals said.

Work on the film took place entirely during the COVID-19 pandemic, so he adapted an earlier abandoned screenplay into a new script with scenes playing out as the characters have conversations with each other via webcams in isolation. The story builds in intensity, scene by scene, to a stunningly dramatic conclusion.

“While this new style of presentation was limiting in many ways, I saw the idea of a fully webcam-based movie as an exciting prospect,” Rhenals said. “While I’d have to dispense with my usual pictorial emphasis and two decades’ worth of cinematic understanding, I’d be able to focus on the acting performances to an unprecedented degree. It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. Plus, I needed to keep active creatively during the pandemic.”

He hopes to make State v. Unknown available on Amazon and other streaming services later this year. His first feature film For My Sister, about the impact of mental illness, is now playing on Amazon, YouTube, Tubi and Roku.

“Also, I recently self-published my first book — 20 Years a Filmmaker — a diverse compendium of my creative and personal experiences as an artist and independent filmmaker. The book is available from Amazon in both digital and paperback form. With regard to future filmmaking work, I’m currently writing my third feature film with the expectation of producing it this summer. And I’ll be using an actual camera to film it.”

To learn more about him, visit

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