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EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: Rory Kennedy Talks Growing Up with and Filming 'Ethel'

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood December 12, 2012 at 3:58PM

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.
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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.

Ethel and Rory Kennedy
Ethel and Rory 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.

See our interview and the film's trailer below. Here's our TOH! review and coverage from TCA.

This article is related to: Interviews, Interviews, Interviews, Interviews , Ethel, Documentary, Documentaries, Awards, Awards, Oscars


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.