Beautiful Hills of Brooklyn


Beautiful Hills of Brooklyn is a short dramatic film based on a true story.  Joanna Merlin stars as Jessie, an elderly woman confronting the changes in her life and her beloved Brooklyn neighborhood.  The film moves from present time to reverie and is told entirely in the words of Jessie’s diary.

The story behind Beautiful Hills of Brooklyn, as told by Ellen:

After my great-aunt Jessie died, I opened a drawer and discovered a diary she’d been keeping as an elderly woman. I found myself mesmerized.

From the diary, I learned that Jessie had read Walt Whitman’s poem, Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, from his Leaves of Grass (1855).  What would happen if I juxtaposed Jessie’s matter-of-fact diction with Whitman’s grand, rhapsodic language?

The result was Beautiful Hills of Brooklyn, a one-act, one-woman play that won a Moondance Award in 2002.  Joanna Merlin performed the play at the Makor Center of the 92nd Street Y in New York City under the direction of Amy Feinberg.

In 2008, the play was adapted into a short dramatic film, directed by Ragnar Freidank and starring Joanna Merlin.  The film won 18 awards and qualified for an Academy Award nomination.

The film (38 minutes) has been screened  at community gatherings, houses of worship, professional conferences, and organizations that provide care to the elderly.

For more information about the film, visit

Ellen welcomes questions and comments about the film; contact Ellen.