The Pine Barrens

a documentary by David Scott Kessler

Fire in the Pine Barrens

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 industries.  Perceived inhospitable, it became 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 Pinelands are the nations first National Reserve, consisting of roughly 1.1 million acres, with parts designated for preservation and controlled growth.  An aquifer holding 17 trillion gallons of the cleanest water in the US gives life to both nature and the seven counties that reside within the Pinelands' borders.  A 15 member independent commission, created in 1979 is intended as the guardians of preservation and responsible land use.  Corruption and short-sightedness threaten those goals. 

It is believed by many that political forces and negligence may contribute to making this century, the Pine Barren's last.

the Project

Project Timeline

The Pine Barrens is set to be completed in 2017.  Distribution and public screenings will follow.
Select preview screenings and performances with a live score by The Ruins of Friendship Orchestra will resume in September 2016.  Please consider subscribing to the mailing list below for updates.

a Portrait of Place

Guiding the viewer through the Pinelands’ winding, rust-colored rivers, its dark forests and slowly developing towns, The Pine Barrens creates a contemplative and complex portrait of a place. Through a haze of tall-tales around campfires, encounters with “Pineys” punctuate a landscape removed from contemporary experiences of reality.

With the Pinelands as its primary character, the film explores the symbiotic yet sometimes destructive relationship between man and nature. Aiming beyond journalism, The Pine Barrens is a meditation on Nature and Place and their roles in the formation of identity through impressions and artistically interpreted moments; instances best experienced through a veil of wonder and left largely unexplained.  

The Pine Barrens is supported in part by and artists grant from the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage.

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 Northern (the other) New Jersey.  He studied visual art at Parsons School of Design, University of the Arts, and Montclair State University. He began experimenting with film and digital media the early 2000's, primarily focusing on documentary and video installation. 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.


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