David Scott Kessler: The Pine Barrens

Producer: Michael O’Reilly

Filmmaker David Scott Kessler has been working on his evolving documentary, “The Pine Barrens”, for the better part of a decade. Before he began the work, he had never visited the Pine Barrens proper. Guiding the viewer through the Pinelands’ winding, rust-colored rivers, its dark forests and slowly developing towns, the documentary 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 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 are often found feet from busy roadways.

It’s unique glacial geology, Lenope 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 Pineland’s 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.

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