Magic, utopia, the fountain of youth—these are a few ways that beachgoers describe the boardwalk in Wildwood, NJ, a loving snapshot of the South Jersey Shore from Ruth Leitman and Carol Weaks Cassidy.
Shot on Super 8 with an all-woman crew, the film captures the nostalgic ambience of nights on the boardwalk: the neon lights of the amusement park rides, boardwalk misfits, the electricity of a summer fling. Leitman and Cassidy—both natives of nearby Philadelphia and summer visitors to Wildwood—also sought to spark deeper conversations with the young women they remembered from their teenage years. In Leitman’s words, they wanted to learn “what they had to say about themselves and the world, their life’s dreams and aspirations.”
“In the media, we seldom hear from Jersey girls and when we do, they are marginalized as surface seekers. I knew there was more to them, a nostalgia and introspection, that few ever have given these women and girls the chance to express.” RUTH LEITMAN
The ’90s fashions and the girls’ chatty exuberance helped the film resurface as a cult hit in 2009, both an influence on Lana Del Rey (who included clips from the film in an early version of her “Diet Mountain Dew” video) and refreshing counterprogramming to Jersey Shore. Wildwood’s candid interviews—on lighthearted and serious topics, from first sexual experiences to hopes for the future—also give the film an understated, moving authenticity. “Nearly every film I’ve ever made contains a moment where a character makes light of the violence that they have experienced in their past, sloughed off with a quip,” Leitman shared. “I wanted to help these women achieve what they’d love to become in their wildest dreams.”
Leitman continued to shed light on marginalized female perspectives through her award-winning documentaries. Her films, including the Georgia-set Alma and the immigration-focused Tony and Janina’s American Wedding, have screened at international festivals and are available to rent through her website. She’s nearing completion on two projects: No One Asked You, a documentary detailing Daily Show co-creator Lizz Winstead’s activism for reproductive rights, and a fiction feature, The Pin Down Girl, based on the women’s professional wrestlers she followed in her 2005 documentary Lipstick & Dynamite. Her photography is also featured in the High Museum exhibition Underexposed, open through August 1.
Meanwhile, Cassidy went on to work with organizations like BBC, CNN, and the United Nations as a multimedia producer devoted to human rights. For PBS, she made a docuseries about the lives of adolescent women, Girls in America, which she later adapted into a book of interviews. Since Wildwood, both filmmakers have also become media educators: Leitman at Columbia College Chicago, and Cassidy at Rutgers.
Text written by Chloe Lizotte.
- Credits for
- Wildwood, NJ
- produced by
- Ruth Leitman & Carol Weaks Cassidy
- Ruth Leitman
- Karen Enenkel & Julie Wolffe
- Steve Byerly