An Unfixed Documentary
What interested me personally about the Pine Barrens wasn’t something I read about the ecology, or the history, or the Jersey Devil, or any of the other subjects that are often studied and written about. It was a reflection of all these things, which could act as landmarks in my own personal exploration of a place that was unknown and mysterious to me. It was a walk down a narrow trail in the moonlight without a compass, with little but faith that I will come out the other side with some deeper understanding-and not one new way of seeing the natural world, but many - often conflicting ways. They would be layered with stories of people more at home and I would present a work that tries to represent many of these different perspectives, a kind of non-linear travel log, depicting the unique stages from naive wonder to familiarity and intellectual and physical understanding.
The Ruins of Friendship Orchestra joined me and we began to create a dialogue between my videos and their music through screening that were scored live in art spaces, theaters, museums, and on occasion in the forest and farms. It was a conversation that would grow and change over the years, the form of the film owing much to the specificity of the performance and what each musician was bringing to it.
An audience started to follow. To them, the screenings and performances of editions that we presented offered its own narrative, one of the efforts to relate to an unknowable place over time. Those who stuck with us over the years experienced a story beyond what could ultimately be in the film. They experienced an artistic process made transparent, complete with all the wrong turns and unrepeatable moments of splendor.
I thought of all of these editions as completed ephemeral works. They were steps along the way to a film but they were moments in their own right and they were every bit of an experience to us and the audience as a final product would be. I think of the project as being an unfixed documentary. Acknowledging the futility in thinking that any work could be considered a definitive account of a time and place that would not change simply due to the unstoppable effects of temporal distance, The Pine Barrens would accelerate that process and be reinterpreted every few months, the moments captured on camera becoming moldable material combined with the live musical score and the qualities of the sites where it was performed, generating new shared experiences, the layers of time reflecting each other for a brief moment and then fading away.
I began without a set idea of how much time it would go on for. It’s been around 6 years. If I was willing to commit my life to the work, as many of the people who have deep connections to the Pine Barrens have, these six years would only be scratching the surface. While I knew I would personally change, what I thought would be the constant was the forest itself. That may have been part of my initial naivety, but what I found was a place that has been changing for a century. The protections that were put in place almost 40 years ago really only slowed down the encroaching development. Habitats are still being lost and a culture that takes pride in their isolation, I’ve been told, is fading away.
In these 6 years, pillars of the community have passed away with all the knowledge and history they personally held onto passing away with them. Just this year, there has been a clear political shift away from conservation and real science towards business interests that could devastate the land. It turned out to be an important time to decide to document and one that puts into question what will come next.
Now daylight is breaking on our journey and we have it in our minds to settle on a finished film, get it into the larger world, and finally hand the reigns over to time to do what it is meant to. In the meantime, the musicians and I will forge a new branch of the trail and continue bringing the live version to people, each branch living and evolving in their own ways.
It’s still going to take a while and a lot of hard work to get to that point. We are aiming for this year and feel confident in that goal. Our crowdfunding campaign begins on April 1. Please join us.