Chicago's most powerful Jewish doyenne channels Katharine Hepburn to punish her adult child's insolence, and win back their loyalty, in this experimental short film.
Eleanor of Illinois is a grant recipient of the inaugural cycle of the NYFA Made In NY Women’s Film Fund. Please click above to watch the film’s teaser.
Eleanor of Illinois stars stage legend and four-time Tony nominee Judy Kuhn, known for her starring roles in the original Broadway casts of Les Miserables, Chess, and Fun Home, as well as her seminal turn as the singing voice of Pocahontas in the Disney film Pocahontas.
I grew up watching The Lion In Winter on a loop. In it, England’s medieval royal family meets over Christmas to plot with/against one another, test loyalties, engage in ritual, express love, and enact revenge over past wrongdoings. The film, particularly Katharine Hepburn’s performance as Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, became a vehicle for me to process the emotional, class, and power dynamics of my own family. Like Queen Eleanor’s children, I grew up in a dynasty, albeit an American Jewish one whose money and influence came from the frozen dessert business. Despite the very real differences between Eleanor of Aquitaine’s clan and my own, so much in The Lion In Winter resonates with my lived experience of familial control, obligation, and conflict.
Eleanor of Illinois is the most ambitious piece from BOUNTY, my series exploring the political and psychological complexities of American Jewish wealth. For this piece, I spent over a year culling and editing dialogue from Hepburn’s performance in The Lion In Winter to craft the monologue of a contemporary, Midwestern, disappointed Jewish mother in her voice. In her performance as Eleanor of Illinois, Judy Kuhn speaks in rhythm with Hepburn’s monologue, alternately chiding and pleading with her wayward child, played silently by the camera. Eleanor of Illinois is a meditation on what hard-won financial success has wrought, a passionate piece of experimental video art fan fiction, and a portrait of how normal family dysfunction, when combined with extreme affluence, transforms into high melodrama.