Last Wednesday, Lions Television presented “New Jersey: The Movie,” Steve Chernoski’s documentary short on the Garden State, which is a film not so much about the state itself, but the people who populate it.
After a quick round of trivia, where winners were rewarded with T-shirts, Chernoski prepped the crowd for what they were about to view.
According to him, if the film were shown in its complete form it would be disqualified from premiere status at film festivals, so the audience would be treated instead to a shortened 27-minute version.
Largely tongue-in-cheek, the film sincerely addresses the fact that New Jersey is a state with an identity crisis – a state where residents consistently pigeonhole one another on even the most trivial of word choices.
Even the phrase “Central Jersey” has been known to raise the ire of many a citizen, with a lot of people saying there is no “Central” New Jersey.
A majority of the film, aside from the Jersey Shore portion, ignores characterizing a central region of the state, instead simply classifying the state into north and south.
The focal point of “New Jersey: The Movie” is the emphasis on the cultural choices people make, and how they define the state. Pork Roll or Taylor Ham? Bennies or Shoobies? Eagles or Giants? Sadly, Jet fans are ignored.
But there are some things that unite the state – more specifically, uniting against out-of-staters.
Following a speedy montage of clips from the likes of Seinfeld and movies like “Nothing but Trouble,” the documentary shows how New Jersey residents stick it to their bordering neighbors.
One of the most interesting parts of the film is its coverage of the “Benny Go Home” movement along the Jersey coastline. For the past five to six summers in Monmouth and Ocean counties, local residents and establishments have started a small grassroots campaign to take back their postcard beaches from disrespectful visitors, disparagingly referring to the out-of-towners to as “bennies.”
From Cape May to High Point, New Jerseyans everywhere are represented. Educators, mayors, historians, businessmen and average citizens were all interviewed and given screen time.
At another place in the film, Chernoski delves into the stranger-than-fiction story of the early ’80s south New Jersey secession movement. While it happened more than 20 years ago, it is strange how many people have never known about this atypical moment in Jersey history.
In every frame, it is evident that Chernoski, a Ewing native, loves where he comes from. His passion for the state shines all over this film.
Its brief running time also allows for a leaner film, rarely getting bogged down by unnecessary fluff. Chernoski and crew have concocted an unusually fun and twisted look at the state so many call home.