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’Gabriel’ film examines mental illness

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Filmmaker Lou Howe stopped by Emerson Los Angeles on February 17 for the screening of his film, Gabriel, which examines mental illness. (Photo by Daryl Paranada)

Writer and director Lou Howe screened his debut feature film, Gabriel, and offered unique insight into the filmmaking process to Emerson College Los Angeles students and alumni on February 17.

Howe was named one of the 25 New Faces of Independent Film for 2013 by Filmmaker Magazine.

Gabriel, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2014, stars Rory Culkin as a troubled young man coping with mental illness while searching obsessively for his first love. Culkin’s portrayal of Gabriel has earned praise from The Hollywood Reporter and Variety, which called his performance “electrifying.”

Howe says he was inspired to create the film because of a friend he knew from college who was diagnosed with a mental illness. 

“I find that actively naming it as a disease distracts from Gabriel as a character,” said Howe. “It becomes about his diagnosis as opposed to about him.”

Howe, a native New Yorker who earned a master’s degree in directing from the American Film Institute in 2010, said he wanted to portray mental illness in a way that would not contribute to its stigma. Characters with mental illness are usually either serial killers or adorably quirky, said Howe, but that did not mean he wanted to make Gabriel a likable character.

“Liking someone is not important to me,” said Howe. “You want the audience to understand a character and be interested in the outcome of their goals.”

Faculty member Julian Higgins ’08, a classmate of Howe’s at AFI, moderated a discussion after the screening. Many of his Business of Directing students attended to soak up advice, including Elliot Barnes ’15, a Film major in Visual and Media Arts.

“I thought his writing process for character development was really amazing,” said Barnes, an aspiring filmmaker.

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Rory Culkin plays the main character in Gabriel

Barnes is gearing up to direct a short narrative about the unlikely connection between a boy and elderly man. He says Howe inspired him to think about what his characters would do in random situations that are not written into his short film. 

“He opened my eyes to that process,” said Barnes. “I took to heart a lot of what he said.”