Awards show season: celebrities get dressed to the nines, head to the red carpet, take a million photos, and then sit down to an hours-long show to celebrate winning actors, directors, producers and such. This process is much the same for the Young Artist Academy (an offshoot of the Young Artist Foundation, a nonprofit founded in 1978 to honor the excellence of young performers).
Familiar names like Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Ryan Reynolds, Regina King and Julia Roberts were part of the organization back when they first started. And now, the industry can add unfamiliar names (for now!), like Xavier junior Sejal Patel, to the list.
Sejal was nominated for Outstanding Director by the Young Artist Academy for her short film Life with the Patels.
Her interest in filmmaking began in elementary school when she and her friends would make short films that they recorded with her laptop. Those early adventures soon led to more sophisticated projects, as Sejal taught herself how to use greenscreens and CGI and attended filmmaking camps during summer break. These days, her projects are on a much grander scale.
“One day, I had the idea to make a Modern Family-type film about my own family,” Sejal said. “Life with the Patels is a five-minute comedy short film intertwining three true stories that culminate into a life lesson shared by all.”
The film showcases interactions between her parents, sister, grandfather, aunt and uncle.
“The stories intertwine into the shared lesson that we do things for our loved ones, even if we initially do not want to, because we love them,” Sejal said.
Once the film was complete, she sent it to the academy to be viewed by the nomination committee. This group comprises casting agents, managers, studio executives, journalists, and governors from other entertainment awards. Once the submissions are reviewed, the committee chooses the nominees – and one of those was Life with the Patels.
Sejal was ecstatic to hear of her nomination, which she found out about via email while she was on summer vacation.
“I was expecting a rejection, honestly. I opened the email and, to my surprise, it said I was a finalist. I screamed out to my parents and told them the good news. I could not stop thinking about the award show, and I eagerly awaited the event,” she said.
The ceremony was held at the Directors Guild of America in Los Angeles in the fall. Sejal recalls the overwhelming excitement she felt:
“This was the first film award show, other than the Arizona Student Film Festival, where I was nominated and able to attend in person. When I arrived and walked the red carpet, I knew that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I wanted the moment to last forever,” she said.
The show had all the glitter of the professional Academy Awards. Sejal said she was able to meet other nominees, including many who flew from overseas for the event.
“When I got to the front, I posed for the cameras and had the experience of a lifetime. I wanted to savor the excitement and the nervous energy that I felt,” Sejal said.
This time around, Sejal’s film lost out to Maya Jai Pinson, whose short film was called I Dare You.
Sejal isn’t letting the loss deter her from filmmaking. She said that Life with the Patels 2 is already in development, and she plans to make more short films throughout the year.
After high school, she wants to attend the USC School of Cinematic Arts. She dreams of working as a director or producer at a major film studio.