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Chestatee grad gets Student Academy Award nod
Matthew Kiel, right, and his movie-making partner Joseph Heinen recently attended the 40th annual Student Academy Awards semifinalist round in New York City.

To see the four-minute stop-action film ‘Meloncholy’, visit

A day before his 22nd birthday, Matthew Kiel got an early and unexpected birthday present — a nomination for his stop-motion movie in the 40th annual Student Academy Awards.

But as it turns out, the 2009 Chestatee High School graduate was too busy to celebrate his semifinalist honor.

“My friend texted me that we got it,” he said in a phone interview from the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. “We were definitely surprised.

“But it was a busy week for me and I didn’t think about it too much.”

However, the Gainesville native was able to think about it a little later, especially as he headed to New York City to watch the screening of his four-minute film “Meloncholy” along with the six other semifinalist nominees.

Kiel explained he spent two of his four quarters — which are equivalent to semesters — during his junior year making the stop-motion movie about a guy who just broke up with his girlfriend. He said after working on the project with his film partner, Joseph Heinen, for months, scenes designed to be funny to an audience do not appear funny after a while.

“You can’t tell if it makes sense to other people,” Kiel said. “So we were really surprised.”

Kiel doubts may have arose because of the premise of the movie. He said in the film, a man has moved into a new apartment after breaking up with his girlfriend. Then in the middle of the night, he wakes up to find a unicorn trying to steal his TV. Then more comedic moments ensue with the man trying to get the unicorn out of his home.

“We thought it was funny,” Kiel said.

Others agreed. Kiel and Heinen submitted the film to free film festivals including the one leading to the nomination in the Student Academy Awards, which is a national student film competition conducted by the Academy and the Academy Foundation. Each year, more than 500 college and university film students compete in four categories: animation, documentary, narrative and alternative.

“This one was a free entry and we thought it was a shot,” he said. “We sent it off a week or two ago.”

Then Kiel heard the news, and another week later he was headed to New York City for the screening. The day before he drove to the city from Rochester he called his parents.

“He was matter-of-fact when he told us,” said DiAnn Kiel, Matthew’s mother who lives in Gainesville. “We were ecstatic.”

DiAnn Kiel explained her son has always been interested in stop-motion animation and encouraged her son to attend a college that was “more than just an art school.” In fact, Kiel’s parents met in Rochester, N.Y., and DiAnn’s sister lives there.

“He went to that school because it was a select program,” she said in a phone interview. “(And) now he’s working on his senior movie.”

But soon his school work will be done. Kiel graduates May 17.

However, is stop-motion movie is finished for now. It did not advance to the final round. But his parents are still proud.

“I think it was great that he got to that level,” DiAnn Kiel said.