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 film prompts viewers of all ages to ask how we care for the elderly among us.  Based on an award-winning play by Ellen Cassedy, it has won numerous national and international awards and qualified for an Academy Award nomination.

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 Jewish woman, living alone in Brooklyn in the 1970’s.  I began to read and found myself mesmerized by the poetry of Jessie’s  simple, spare language, and by what she had to tell me about the joys and sorrows of old age – in fact, about life itself.

From the diary, I learned that Jessie had attended a poetry class at the senior center, where she read Walt Whitman’s poem, Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, from his Leaves of Grass (first publisehd in 1855).

Whitman’s verses express how generations communicate with one another through the written word, and how each one of us is a vital part of the great stream of humanity.

I experimented with juxtaposing Jessie’s matter-of-fact diction up against Whitman’s grand, rhapsodic language, and found that a fascinating vibration was created.

The result was Beautiful Hills of Brooklyn, a one-act, one-woman, one-hour 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, at Joanna Merlin’s initiative, the play was adapted into a short dramatic film, directed by Ragnar Freidank.  With Joanna Merlin as the wonderfully expressive star, the film won 18 awards and qualified for an Academy Award nomination.

The film (38 minutes) is screened frequently 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.