Rory Kennedy, 43, is a Sundance and HBO documentary veteran who needed all her accumulated experience to navigate HBO doc czar Sheila Nevins’ challenge to her: make a film about her mother, Ethel Kennedy.
First the filmmaker was shocked when her mother agreed to her request to do the doc profile. Then she asked her eight surviving siblings to participate–without any control over how their interviews would be used. She sat down her mother–someone who is not prone to self-reflection– for a week of talking. Kennedy tracked down archival footage never before seen. And then, in the editing room, she had to navigate the personal and the historical in a way that was accurate, sensitive and responsible. She admits in our Skype interview below that she sometimes panicked. And she says she couldn’t have done “Ethel,” which is shortlisted for a possible Oscar nomination, ten years ago.
The results are fascinating–a look at our shared history, from a distinctive and uniquely personal point-of-view. The Kennedys are a special breed, our American royal family in many ways, raised in wealth and privilege, close to power, but with a great civic pride and mission. And Ethel was there, at husband Robert Kennedy’s side. The last of the couple’s 11 children, Rory was born seven months after her father’s assassination, so while making the film she also was able to learn more about her parents and their relationship than she had while she was growing up.
Next up: a PBS doc about the last days of Vietnam.