The Salt Lake Tribune: Sundance: ‘Ethel’ captures the quiet Kennedy

January 18th, 2012

The Salt  Lake Tribune
January 18, 2011
By Sean P. Means


Rory Kennedy thought her mom would say no.

Kennedy, a documentary filmmaker who brought “American Hollow” (1999) and “Ghosts of Abu Ghraib” (2007) to the Sundance Film Festival, was approached by Sheila Nevins, president of HBO Documentary Films, about making a movie about her mother — Ethel Skakel Kennedy, wife of the late Robert F. Kennedy. (Rory, the 11th of Bobby and Ethel’s children, was born six months after her father was assassinated in 1968.)

“I was, frankly, resistant to doing it, because it’s personal, and I know how uncomfortable my mother is with these things,” Rory Kennedy said. When Nevins persisted, Kennedy decided, “I figured my mother would say no, so I’ll just ask her. Then she can say ‘no’ and I don’t have to. So, anyway, I asked her and she said ‘yes.’”

The results can be seen in “Ethel,” which debuts in the Documentary Premieres section of the 2012 Sundance Film Festival today at 2 p.m. at The MARC Theatre in Park City. The screening will be well attended, as Ethel Kennedy and many of Rory’s other relatives are expected to be in attendance — possibly the largest concentration of Kennedy’s outside of Hyannisport.

Here is some of my interview with Rory Kennedy:

I did a bit of Google research, and there’s not that much written about your mother, compared to your other relatives. How did that affect your documentary?

Part of the reason I was incentivized to make the movie is that her story is one of the great untold stories, in my opinion. Part of the reason for that is that she’s reticent to do an interview. She hates them. She really hasn’t done anything comprehensive, ever. She did one with Tom Brokaw 30 years ago, and even that was just kind of a snippet. …

I decided early on, because there wasn’t that much written about her, to go into the archival material and see what was there. What I discovered is that she was there, always. She’s in every picture. She might always be in the background, but she showed up. She’s there at the Hoffa hearings. She’s there at the inauguration. She’s there on the campaign trails, all of the campaign trails. She’s the one hosting the parties. She’s just there. To be able to dig up that material and then talk to her about what that was like, and try to share her perspective and my family’s perspective on some of these more historical events, seemed exciting to me.

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