Gaden State Film Festival winners
The winner of the 2022 New Jersey Hometown Documentary Short was a student from Boonton High School (at top); a film by students from Middletown High School was named First Runner-Up.

For New Jersey School Boards Association Digital Media Producer Robin Kampf, seeing students participate in the 20th Annual Garden State Film Festival provides a window into their innate talent in storytelling and their visual eye — skills that can’t be learned from a book.

The award-winning film director/producer, who also serves on the board of directors for the festival, honored winning student entries under NJSBA’s sponsored category, “New Jersey Hometown Documentary Short,” at a March gala in Asbury Park.

Pre-pandemic, the festival would attract some 30,000 over a five-day period, and Hollywood heavy hitters have supported the festival, including Danny DeVito, Glenn Close, Christopher Lloyd, Bruce Springsteen, Bebe Neuwirth, Armand Assante, Sally Struthers, Lanie Kazan, Diane Ladd, Laura Dern, Batman producer Michael Uslan, and the late Clarence Clemens, James Gandolfini and Ed Asner.

“Some of the work that these kids do is amazing,” Kampf said.

The documentaries are five minutes or less and highlight some facet of students’ respective hometowns. While pre-COVID-19, students mostly created content in their school studios under teacher guidance, many since have had to rely on their personal devices and work independently.

“There’s no doubt that it opens up opportunities in terms of getting their content seen. I mean that’s a huge, huge get for the students and for their programs and each of the towns,” she added.

“We’ve all been captive in our own homes,” Kampf said during a January video interview from her home in Asbury Park. “This contest has given students an opportunity to really practice their creative skills and talents because some of these students last year, and I’m assuming this year, too, made some of these films with their own cellphones and their editing on their own home computers. Thankfully, technology was where it was when the pandemic hit, because if it wasn’t, they probably wouldn’t be able to do anything.”

Kampf credits the Garden State Film Festival and the New Jersey Motion Picture & Television Commission as the two key entities that foster student involvement. NJSBA began its partnership with them in 2018 to offer students a chance to have their work exhibited on a worldwide virtual platform. NJSBA’s enthusiastic support for the program grows out of its commitment to the importance of arts education. The arts is also part of the interdisciplinary puzzle of NJSBA’s popular STEAM initiatives involving science, technology, engineering, art and math.

“Our STEAM Tank program is just amazing, and they’ve gone from like 27 submissions to a gazillion submissions, right?” Kampf said. “It’s science and technology. I think our film showcase represents the “A” in STEAM. That’s what I like to say.”

“It’s an opportunity for creativity to come through. People are good with numbers, people are good in sports, people are good with science and technology. I was terrible at all of those things, but give me a camera, and I can do my thing,” Kampf said, laughing.

As an adjunct professor in TV and film, pre-pandemic for Monmouth, Montclair and Seton Hall universities, and now Brookdale Community College, Kampf said she is excited to see future generations of students have access to so many local opportunities.

“Back in the old days, if you wanted to get a job in TV or film, you’d have to go out to L.A. Now, there’s so many people who work in our industry. These students don’t have to do what we used to have to do when we were growing up. Those opportunities are here. There’s a huge part of our population that works in the film and television industry and lives in New Jersey. So, the jobs for these students, who want to work in these industries, are out there,” she said.

“More filming is now done in New Jersey than ever before,” Kampf added, and pointed to Gov. Phil Murphy’s 2020 tax breaks to draw Hollywood. The state’s largest studio recently opened in Jersey City, and streaming giant Netflix is bidding for a “mega parcel” portion of the former Fort Monmouth military base to do the same.

The festival’s first-place student received a $500 award from the Educational Leadership Foundation of New Jersey for their district toward purchasing TV/film equipment. Runners-up received a certificate.

To view winning student entries in a variety of categories, including music videos, public service announcements and NJSBA’s documentary shorts, visit NJSBA’s Student Film Showcase page on YouTube showcase page.

2023 Film Festival Those interested in participating in the next film festival can begin submitting entries in June. Contact Kampf with questions or visit the festival website,, for more information.

Rosa Cirianni is a School Leader contributing editor.