The Pine Barrens

a documentary by David Scott Kessler. Scored live by The Ruins of Friendship Orchestra


The Film

A wilderness, sculpted by fire, stands defiant of the encroaching megalopolis surrounding it. Once deemed inhospitable, individuals  made their homes here. Through a veil of folklore and myth, their sense of identity is inexorably linked to the diminishing island of darkness in a sea of traffic and lights within the most densely populated state in the nation - New Jersey.   

The film is an epic tone-poem, where raging forest fires and crackling campfires generate rebirth of the physical ecology and the identity of the land and its inhabitants. It is a celebration of nature and a portrait of a particular place, but one that casts doubt on its knowability, and our ability to discern reality from superstition. The Pine Barrens explores the symbiotic yet sometimes destructive relationship between man and nature. Through moments with individuals spanning several years, it reveals the influence of place on identity during a period of gradual loss of both a way of life and of the environment that gave birth to it. 

The New Jersey Pine Barrens

The Pine Barrens of New Jersey, once seen as uninhabitable, has been called home by many. Believed to be unprofitable, it gave birth to iron and cranberry industries.  Perceived inhospitable, it sheltered people seeking refuge. Faced with eradication, it flourished.  The Pines are a living contradiction, thousands of acres of remote forest within the nation's most densely populated state; rare plants and animals often found feet from busy roadways.

It's unique glacial geology, Lenape Indian and American history, rare wildlife, fire ecology, and a culture filled with mystery and folklore such as the Jersey Devil, makes the Pine Barrens one of the most interesting places in America.

The New Jersey Pinelands are the largest tract of undeveloped land between Maine and Florida and home to wild orchids and 43 threatened or endangered animals. In 1978 the 1.1 million acre Pinelands were designated as the nation’s first national reserve. The Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer beneath the forest contains 17 trillion gallon of some of the purest water in the United States. 

The future of this unique place is uncertain..

the Project

Project Timeline

The Pine Barrens is set to be completed in 2018.  Distribution and public screenings will follow.
Select preview screenings and performances with a live score by The Ruins of Friendship Orchestra are currently being scheduled.  Please consider subscribing to the mailing list below for updates.

the Evolving Format

The Pine Barrens is an ongoing and evolving project encompassing several works including a series of live performances in collaboration with The Ruins of Friendship Orchestra. Other works include single and multi-channel gallery installations, digital animations, illustrations and broader curated events.


About the filmmaker

David Scott Kessler is a filmmaker and video artist with a background in painting, sculpture, illustration, motion graphics and visual effects.
David grew up in New Jersey and currently lives in Philadelphia.  He studied visual art at Parsons School of Design, University of the Arts, and Montclair State University. He has screened work internationally in galleries and museums including the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia and Rooftop Film Festival. David currently runs the production company, Studioscopic. 

David is a 2015 Pew Arts and Heritage Fellow and a 2015 Flaherty Film Fellow.

About the Ruins of Friendship Orchestra

Named for the historic Pine Barrens town of Friendship where the band first practiced together as a group, The Ruins of Friendship Orchestra is a collective of electronic and traditional instrumentalists composing the score to The Pine Barrens concurrently to the film's evolving editions.  Ruins perform this score, also an evolving and partially improvised work, live at screenings, merging performance and documentary to create a completely unique experience transporting the audience into our interpretation of this fascinating and beautiful place.


Featured Collaborator