For a little over twenty years, the Garden State Film Festival has acted as a gateway for aspiring filmmakers, actors, and others interested in careers in the film business the opportunity to meet and network with industry professionals – all in an atmosphere that fosters learning and mentorship roles. With community and leadership at the forefront of the Festival’s philosophy, the Festival has cooperated with Brookdale Community College since its start – eventually moving its headquarters and executive offices to the College’s Lincroft campus in 2020.

The move essentially permits more collaboration to take place closer to home, allowing students to be more involved in the pre-production side of the Festival. This collaboration proved to be a success as it opened the door for many students wanting to get into the industry – but most recently, an unlikely collaboration was made with perhaps quite an unexpected Brookdale program.

In March 2022, the Garden State Film Festival held its 20th Anniversary festival, showcasing a documentary on elite fashion designer and icon Elie Tahari. With the documentary [titled “The United States of Elie Tahari”] in mind, Brookdale’s fashion department students and staff were invited to attend the Festival and participate in a Q+A and reception with the designer. Through the event and documentary, students and staff learned about Tahari’s story of immigrating to New York with less than $100 in his pocket to become the icon and inspiration he is today. Students also were able to get an educative look into the fashion industry, seeing various industry sectors, including retail, fashion show production, and design.

“This was our first main interaction with the Garden State Film Festival – at least for the fashion department,” says Department Chair and Assistant Fashion Professor AnnMarie Hughes on the event. “I think it was a very valuable experience for the students to learn about someone who has been in the industry for so long and built themselves up from nothing.”

As Professor Hughes said, students did receive a first-hand connection to someone so developmental within the fashion industry, an opportunity that can be so critical to those looking to get into the field due to its competitive nature. Additionally during the Q+A, students were offered valuable advice and information from Tahari directly, building different resources and knowledge they can take with them as they progress further within their education and careers. It was a chance in which they can start building relationships with Tahari not only as professionals, but utilize the designer as a mentor within the moment. Some students even brought their portfolios and design sketches to the event, bringing Tahari and his experience to their fullest advantage.

“Meeting Elie Tahari is one of the greatest moments in my fashion career. I’m glad it happened so early on in it,” replies fashion student Ava Ferrise, one of the few students who showcased their work to Tahari.”Hearing his story has increased my motivation to become a designer. But, most of all, having the chance to have a one-on-one conversation with him has been the most uplifting and inspiring memory I have from the event. Having this opportunity at Brookdale is amazing, and I’m so grateful. I wish for more like it.”

For many who attended, the event is one they will never forget. It may have been a once-in-a-lifetime chance for the students involved, but it is just a start in the further collaboration between Brookdale Community College and the Garden State Film Festival. And for many who are looking to become students in the Fashion Merchandising program at Brookdale, it is a  gateway to limitless opportunity.