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 Pine Barrens 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. 

Since 2102, evolving versions of The Pine Barrens have been screened with a live score by The Ruins of Friendship Orchestra making the project unfixed and semi-improvisation in nature putting emphasis on the experience and our changing relationship to place and the natural world over time.

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

A theatrical version of The Pine Barrens is set to be completed in 2019.  Distribution and public screenings will follow.

Live screening are still being scheduled check HERE for updates.


About the filmmaker

David Scott Kessler is a multi-media artist and filmmaker. He grew up in New Jersey and currently lives in Philadelphia,PA. His works in video, installation, computer animation, and sculpture explore the symbiotic yet destructive relationship between humans and nature. Kessler's documentaries focus on magical and surreal moments in everyday life and the oneiric nature of Place. Kessler 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 and is the founder and curator of the landscape based site-specific art and music event, Middle of Nowhere. He has won fellowships from the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage, Flaherty Film Seminar.

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.