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  • Gabriel Rhenals

Blog Post #127: 'State v. Unknown' Sneak Preview Screening!

Updated: 2 days ago

A sneak preview screening of 'State v. Unknown' took place on Saturday, May 21st, 2022 from 12:30pm to 3pm at University of Miami's Cosford Cinema. Starring Andrew J. Garcia, Lorean Mapp, Mia Scornavacca, Florencia Barletta and Juan Iglesias. Music by Ben Morris.


A WhatsApp message to my principal cast on the morning of Saturday, May 21st:


Good morning, everyone! Today's the day!


I just wanted to say that I'm extremely proud of all of you and the extraordinary work you all committed to this film. Thank you for lending me your time, talent and trust. I couldn't have asked for a more capable principal cast.


To those attending [the sneak preview screening], take it easy this afternoon and savor the fruit of your labor! You've earned it and more! See ya in a few hours! :)



On the evening before the day of the screening, I was able to fall asleep fairly quickly and remain peacefully in slumberland for the duration of the night. Unlike the night before the premiere of my 1st feature film For My Sister three years ago, my nerves were firmly under control. In fact, after I was roused from sleep by the daylight spilling in through the gaps of my window blinds, I was soon brimming with great confidence and excitement! I was far more convinced that my 2nd feature film would be met with equal or greater enthusiasm than my freshman effort.


Before showering and getting dressed, I spent most of the morning reviewing what I was planning on saying to introduce the film, facilitate the Q&A and close-out the entire presentation. Over the past week, I'd managed to work my remarks into a finely ground verbal pâté. I'd let the film do most of the talking.


After I showered and dressed, I checked in with my parents. They were duly excited about the event but they of course grilled me about my expected number of guests, my time of departure, my plans to encourage some degree of social distancing, etc. While also informing me of a few last-minute cancellations by some family friends, my parents confirmed the attendance of a particular older couple who'd been friends of the family for decades and luckily happened to be visiting Florida this same month - the Másmelas!


Who are the Másmelas? Héctor Másmela had been a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) student at the same time as my dad in the mid-1970s; both studying civil engineering. They eventually struck up a friendship and soon Héctor, his wife Amparo and their two offspring, Jillian and Bernard, were regular guests at our home in Massachusetts (where my family lived for nearly two decades) for social functions and vice-versa. So close were the Másmelas with our family that Héctor and Amparo were named godparents to my younger brother Daniel upon his baptism. In all honesty, Héctor and Amparo were like another pair of parents to my siblings and me from very early on. They were ever-present and always caring. It is fair to say that they knew me even before I knew myself!


On the way to University of Miami's Cosford Cinema where the screening would be taking place, I accessed a particular soundtrack from a USB flash drive full of my personal music preferences. I opted for the energizing synth of Daniel Pemberton's score for the 2015 biographical film about a particularly thorny but brilliant technological innovator. The mood it contributed felt more than apt. Arriving at Cosford Cinema primed for my event, I immediately found the theater manager Rene Rodriguez, greeted him and soon followed him up some stairs to the projection booth above.


In the projection booth, I followed through with a quick, last-minute test to assure that my film's video file would absolutely play without issue. I'd visited the theater a week prior to meet Rene for the first time and perform a basic test of the theater's projection equipment. Rene, formerly a film critic for The Miami Herald, had been hired as the theater manager at Cosford several months ago and I found him a most dedicated steward of the facility and a most delightful personality. Rene's considerable knowledge and utter hospitality would be instrumental to the success of my event.


After Rene showed me how to operate the house lights, microphone and sound mixer, I checked the time and exited to the terrace outside the theater to receive the soon-arriving attendees. Outside the theater, I first spotted my family members, who'd planned to arrive early so they could place three bouquets of blue balloons (blue for a reason!) near the entrance of the theater to help guide everyone toward the rather nestled-in theater. Soon after, my event's attendees began to arrive in a fairly steady stream.


Many of the attendees were those who'd actually participated in the film and most of them came accompanied with a guest or two. My engagement with nearly everyone who showed up was voluble, spirited and bent on conveying my optimism about the expected reaction to the film. It meant a great deal to me that despite the event having been announced with such short notice (just over a week), many made and followed through with a commitment. I also relished the fact that it was my first time seeing many of the film's actors in-person for the first time. And of course, after each instance of brief chit-chat with my arriving guests, I was sure to remind everyone to socially distance inside the theater. The coronavirus pandemic still loomed somewhat over the event.


Just past 1pm, my younger brother Daniel joined me on the terrace as I kept vigil over the parking lot waiting for more potential guests to arrive. He suggested I not make the attendees already inside the auditorium wait too much longer. I knew it would soon be time to start but I was willing to wait a tad bit longer for any potential stragglers.


Soon sensing that no one else would be approaching from the parking lot, I entered the auditorium, snapped a few photos of the occupied audience gallery and then approached Rene and the waiting microphone. The event was now underway!


Ambling down the aisle toward the ample space between the frontmost row of seats and the screen, I immediately engaged the gathered audience with a confident greeting and stated that "the State [was] finally ready to present its case." Thanks to my past and extensive involvement with Toastmasters International, I experienced next-to-zero nerves.


After some applause followed my opening remarks, I acknowledged the lead actor (Andrew J. Garcia), the rest of the cast, my family, Rene and the audience. I announced that a Q&A would follow the screening, reminded everyone to observe proper movie theater etiquette and then encouraged everyone to "enjoy the show!" Then, I retreated to the back of the auditorium and dimmed the house lights to absolute darkness.


A few seconds of silence and pitch blackness elapsed before a special intro played. This intro was a little something I'd put together to commemorate my twenty years as a filmmaker (from 2002 to 2022) and showcased shots from all of my films, both short and feature-length. After that special intro concluded, State v. Unknown finally began...


In this blog post dedicated to the premiere of For My Sister which took place three years ago, I noted that a filmmaker or anyone else intimately involved in the making of a film never has the same experience as the general audience does when watching it. This observation is as true in this case as any other. Throughout the entire film, I was watching the film presentation for issues related to editing, audio sync, perceived comprehensibility and the reactions of the audience (both verbal and nonverbal). It was a purely critical exercise but as a result I was able to gauge which moments were particularly effective. I noted that about 90% of the comedic beats landed and some of the dramatic turns in the film's latter events did elicit some gasps and other interesting, audible reactions. For all my cool detachment from my location at the back of the auditorium during the screening, I was thrilled that the audience seemed thoroughly captivated by what was happening on the screen. It felt like the last 1.5 years of practical and creative labor had definitely paid off!


At the start of the film's end credits, the audience let fly vigorous applause. And when the credits concluded, the audience paid their respects with another round of hearty applause. After turning the house lights back on, I made my way back to the front of the auditorium and expressed my hope that the audience had enjoyed the film. Given another round of lively clapping, it certainly appeared so.


After rattling off some novel facts about the production, including the use of actual instruments for its musical score (a first in my 10-year collaboration with composer Ben Morris), I asked the attending principal cast members of the film (Andrew J. Garcia, Lorean Mapp and Florencia Barletta) to join me at the head of the theater. The cast and *snickers* entire crew assembled, I began my moderation of the Q&A by asking everyone to introduce themselves and then invited each cast member to describe their experience making this film. They all remarked how unusual the process had been and how surprised they'd been by the quality of the final product. It was refreshing to hear, at the very least, that my dear and dedicated cast had been exceedingly pleased by the product of all our hard work.


From left to right: Gabriel Rhenals, Andrew J. Garcia, Lorean Mapp and Florencia Barletta. (Photo by Rene Rodriguez)

The Q&A continued with a few more questions from the audience, coupled with some positive comments. My cast fielded the questions like the pros they are. And after the Q&A, Rene surprised me by projecting the film's poster on the sizable screen behind us and asked all attending cast to gather for a group photo op (photo below). With plenty of photos taken by the other attendees, I announced the conclusion of the event and thanked everyone for coming. A fitting conclusion to a smoothly run event!


After thanking Rene personally for all of his crucial assistance before and during the event, I found myself in quick dialogue with various attendees who all unanimously professed their appreciation and, dare I say, amazement with my sophomore feature film effort. In the terrace outside, I participated in more involved conversation but unfortunately I couldn't speak to everyone at length. Nevertheless, the feedback I received was extremely encouraging!


After nearly all of the attendees vacated the Cosford Cinema terrace, I rejoined my family who were with the Masmelas. We would all be heading off to lunch. My brother Daniel had suggested a restaurant called Havana Harry's in Coral Gables as the venue for our post-screening luncheon. So, we all convened there.


At the restaurant, I recounted every significant observation about the event to my parents. They were exceptionally proud of my accomplishment and echoed my view that the entire event had been a success and the general reception to the film itself undoubtedly positive.


I also spent a bit of time speaking with the Másmelas. Although their involvement with our family had been somewhat limited as a result of our move to Miami decades ago, their presence at the screening meant a great deal to me. They had known me since my earliest years as a rambunctious youth with a love of movies and a knack for drawing. But now they were witness to a fully grown adult with more than a passing fancy for filmmaking. When I looked at Héctor and Amparo, I felt like I was back in Boston and at their house for movies and childish games under their familiar presence and care. Despite my maturation over the intervening years, they made me feel like I was still that same rambunctious kid madly in love with art. Because in many ways... I still am.


Much love, Héctor and Amparo!


Gabriel Rhenals with some of the cast of 'State v. Unknown'! From left to right: Alonso E. Rhenals, Daniel Rhenals, Leonard J. Moore II, Ruki Etti, Kieron Williams, Ren Sheridan, Sterling Thomas Royston, Gabriel Rhenals, Andrew J. Garcia, Lorean Mapp, Florencia Barletta, Coco Valencia, Kelsey Milian Lopez, Christopher Sanchez, Michael Hill, Daniel Gil and Franca Berti. (Photo by Rene Rodriguez)

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