U.S. filmmaker Rory Kennedy, the youngest child of slain U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, says her HBO documentary "Ethel" stands apart from other accounts of the Kennedy family political dynasty's role in history because it is told from the family's point of view and puts the spotlight on her interview-shy mother, Ethel Skakel Kennedy.
So, how did Rory filter out everything previously said by historians, authors and journalists to focus on her own truth in making this film?
"Part of it was just the simple decision to interview my mother and my siblings and have my voice in there as the narrator," Rory told United Press International in a phone interview this week.
"Obviously, there have been a number of documentaries and books and other media about my family and I felt like what I could offer, what hasn't been in the mix before, is the perspective from inside my family, so that was part of the decision to just interview my siblings. Obviously, I had access to other family members as well as so-called experts on some of these historical events, but I felt like that had been done and can be done by others and what I could add was an inside-out perspective."
Asked if she had always wanted to tell her mother's story on film, Rory replied: "No! I've always wanted not to do this.
"I make documentaries because I'm interested in exploring the world outside of my own and understanding how other people live ... . I'm kind of less interested in exploring my own world," said the director of "American Hollow," "Pandemic: Facing AIDS," "A Boy's Life," "Ghosts of Abu Ghraib" and "Thank You Mr. President: Helen Thomas at the White House."
"There's a lot that's been done about my family and I think, as a whole, we're not an over-sharing bunch and so it wasn't comfortable for me to tell my mother's story and know I would have to ask my mother and siblings some hard questions about some very sad times," said Rory, who was born six months after her father was assassinated in Los Angeles during his campaign for the 1968 Democratic presidential nomination. "It's not something any of us are particularly inclined to talk about or explore publicly, so that was not comfortable for me."
Rory said she relented after HBO continuously pressed her to make a film about her mother, a feisty, fun-loving tower of strength. A devout Catholic and mother of 11 children, Ethel tirelessly supported the political campaigns of both her attorney general-senator-presidential candidate husband, and her brother-in-law, President John F. Kennedy -- and then continued the leaders' humanitarian efforts after they were assassinated, while also instilling in the next generation of Kennedys the vital importance of family and service.
"My siblings and I had been encouraging my mother to write a book about her life because she is such an extraordinary character and she lived through so many amazing times in our history and her story hasn't really been told," Rory said. "She has never done an interview about her whole life or a book about it, so I felt like it's a story that should be told and probably if I didn't do it, it wouldn't happen. And so I was compelled to do it."
Rory said Ethel, now 84, has seen the film and understands why it was made, but still doesn't seem to accept what a tremendous impact she has had on so many people's lives.
"She cannot see it even today. It's pretty amazing," her daughter said.
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