A sneak preview screening of Gabriel Rhenals' 3rd film 'Death Cleaning' took place on Saturday, November 18th, 2023 from 1pm to 3:30pm at University of Miami's Cosford Cinema. Starring Lorean Mapp, Florencia Barletta, Patricia Lauriet, Rebecca Storrow, Sabrina Fonte, Ren Sheridan, Juliana Duque, Mireya Kilmon and Shaun Grant. Music by Ben Morris.
October 15th, 2021
After only two months or so into production on my 2nd film State v. Unknown, I feel compelled to open OneNote (Microsoft Office's note-taking app) and jot down a few ideas for a potential 3rd film. I no longer rely on longhand note-taking, having adopted a new, all-digital writing workflow. A "warped hard drive," an "apocalyptic crisis" and an allusion to the film's defining structural characteristic are listed among this earliest instance of notes for what would become Death Cleaning.
December 7th, 2022
An early outline is struck, collating all of my most important notes from the last few months of brainstorming. The scene count is an unwieldy 360! However, the number of scenes will ultimately be reduced by half. Still, a stable foundation for the prospective film has been laid down.
April 20th, 2023
After approximately two months working on it, the first draft of my 3rd film is complete. A three-pass process of involving increasingly finer detail with each successive pass was performed. As usual, dialogue is a near-final consideration. The title Death Cleaning is also finalized at this point in time. The script would undergo two more significant revisions before a shooting script was arrived at for filming.
July 15th, 2023
Much creativity percolates within the walls of a hospital suite at Larkin Community Hospital in South Miami! Various actors in costume perform in front of a camera and a strategically located recording device in a hallway as other actors await their turn at bat in an adjacent waiting room while still others arrive. Falling a bit behind schedule, the stress of maintaining order and productivity amid acute time pressure bears down on me like never before on one of my own film productions. Though stressed and overwhelmed, I manage to survive the rest of the day with quality footage in tow. While not without more challenges, the remaining two-thirds of the production schedule proves considerably less hectic than today's.
October 21st, 2023
"Death Cleaning is complete!" I text the lead of the film Lorean Mapp moments after completing a final pass on the film's sound mix. She shares the same enthusiasm in a response moments later. The film is ready to be screened at UM's Cosford Cinema on Saturday, November 18th at 1pm. I'd locked in the date weeks before.
November 6th, 2023
Attending a local improv workshop I used to frequent in years past, I reconnect with some old friends and introduce myself to a new group of regulars. After some inhibition-loosening acting exercises, I announce the upcoming screening of Death Cleaning and distribute some homemade flyers. So concludes the final stop on my in-person promotional tour which also included attending a test screening of a locally shot feature film and some other social groups I'm a member of.
The 18th is almost upon us!
November 18th, 2023, 8:00am
I awaken comfortably to the gentle chimes of my phone's first of several alarms. I'm thankful for the melatonin pill my mom insisted I take the night before. Eagerly out of bed, my ensuing daily morning routine is carried out calmly and unaffected. Setting off in my car to University of Miami's campus, I am generally relaxed and optimistic.
Arrived and parked, I exit my car and make my way to the Cosford Cinema terrace comfortably nestled on the east side of the UM campus. There, I encounter the theater manager Rene Rodriguez. He is as amiable as always (I've attended over 35 screenings since I pledged my patronage to the theater over a year ago) and we quickly go over the particulars of our respective duties for the afternoon. We had met just over a week prior to test out the film's DCP projection and the results were beyond reproach.
After deliberating with Rene, I encounter, as expected, several members of the UM chapter of NAMI (National Alliance of Mental Illness); an organization who's greater Miami-Dade chapter I've collaborated with in the past. They're soon ready to table at the event and engage with guests given the nature of Death Cleaning's subject matter.
The guests begin to trickle into the terrace just outside the theater entrance. Although my plan to review the notes for my opening remarks are dashed, I'm thrilled to meet and greet so many of my friends from such varying life contexts. Everyone seems excited, particularly the cast members turning up, and I insist on the potency of the proverbial nitrate in my pocket. I also spend ample time interacting with Maui, a therapy dog who appears in the film!
The turnout numbers just under 100 people by my naked eye. Not bad. Rene is impressed and I credit no small amount of elbow grease.
After practically all of the guests have found their way to their seats, I signal to Rene that we can officially start the event. Rene accesses a nearby audio console and activates a microphone before making his way to the theater stage to introduce me. His kind introduction alludes to our friendship and my second time sneak previewing one of my latest films at this beloved venue.
Handed the microphone, I commence my opening remarks with the revelation that no one has seen the film in its final form prior to this screening. The remainder of my introduction consists of special thanks to Rene, my family, Lorean Mapp and the rest of the cast. With some final words about proper theater etiquette, the film is ready to begin (before the trailers for my two previous films)!
I am tense as the film plays and dispirited by a certain, but not absolute, lack of laughter at moments throughout the film which I expected would elicit more of a response from a sizable audience. Yet, I make a familiar observation: Everyone seems captivated by the events unfolding on the screen. Few wayward head pivots or other signs of restlessness. After all, a principal objective for the film was leanness in form despite the essentially passive nature of the protagonist. Only later would I realize that the film's gravity was far more affecting than its levity.
As the credits roll, a robust applause accompanies the first credit and the final text on the scroll-up. Still, I am gripped by an alarming ambiguity! Flooding my mind are concerns that my most experimental film yet may have too greatly confounded the audience's expectations.
But showing no sign of insecurity, I amble up to the stage with a microphone and incite another instance of applause before announcing the Q&A portion of the event.
The principal cast assembles in front of the stage and what follows in response to my request that the gathered cast members introduce themselves are immensely humbling expressions of praise and gratitude toward the film and me, respectively. I reciprocate the sentiment in every short gap between the cast members' responses and I feel utterly relieved. At the very least, those involved in the making of a film should have their faith in the entire enterprise rewarded. It certainly seems it has been.
Some of the questions and comments from the audience relate to the structure of the film, the inspiration for the film, how the closing tone was achieved, the relationship between myself and the actors, the intention behind certain visual elements and whether there were any significant compromises. Judging by the nature and extent of the Q&A, it seems as though the audience had generally found the entire experience interesting and rather novel at the very least. My nerves are calmed.
After the Q&A, I direct my cast and all remaining attendees to gather on the stage for a group photo in front of the film's projected poster as part of a standing tradition at Cosford Cinema. Afterward, I encounter many friends, both new and familiar, who express more kind and enthusiastic sentiments toward the film. And even as I press for honesty and candor, the responses remain encouraging.
As the crowd dwindles, I join my family outside the theater and we make plans to rendezvous at one of my parents' favorite restaurants near our home to enjoy conversation over a square meal. A fitting conclusion to a decidedly eventful afternoon!
In Death Cleaning, I deliberately set out to challenge a fundamental assumption of narrative fiction filmmaking. The possibility of suffering immense, damaging kickback from such a decision hung over my head like the sword of Damocles throughout the entire course of scriptwriting and all stages of production. Despite a seemingly successful sneak preview screening, the danger yet persists! But I've long admired individuals, not just artists, who thoughtfully pushed against the constriction of all-too-familiar forms and structures in the interest of expanding the bounds of an artistic and/or scientific practice. In the interest of intelligent pursuits, such fundamentally vulnerabilizing exploits are the very élan of progress.
The nature of Death Cleaning's cinematography is also a unique and revelatory feature of the film. On the basis of surveying several audience members in the immediate aftermath of the screening, I believe sufficient editorial propulsion and endowment of the film's perspective with particular definition can significantly mitigate or outright annul any offense caused by sub-standard image fidelity.
The extent of the roll-out of Death Cleaning to film festivals and other types of exhibition was hinged upon the reception of the film at its first sneak preview screening. As of this writing, I am awaiting responses from three in-state film festivals. I am also interested in finding other opportunities to screen the film locally with an eye, as usual, toward educational or socially beneificial settings.
My 4th film is already in active development. I look forward to honoring past collaborations on For My Sister and State v. Unknown as well as those initiated through Death Cleaning. My characteristic interest in risk-taking and reinvention will inform my next picture as well.
For their unwavering support and faith in my creative activities, I am always grateful to my kin. Their generally favorable response to Death Cleaning is a major source of comfort and reassurance. I am particularly cognizant of my parents' reception to my work as I always try to honor what has amounted to lifelong patronage. As in Luke 12:48: "For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required."