Marking the end of the first half of this year’s Documentary Premieres: Rory Kennedy’s portrait of her mother, ETHEL
Sundance Program Description:
It would have satisfied even the most voracious history buffs if Rory Kennedy, youngest child of Robert and Ethel Kennedy, had enlisted her mother’s perspective simply as a fresh angle on the Kennedy years. But ETHEL is so much more. Intimate, humorous conversations and never-before-seen images from the family troves uncover an enthralling story of a vivacious, authentic heroine whose transformation—from rambunctious Republican firecracker to savvy Democratic campaigner to socially conscious single mother of 11—arcs definitively as her husband’s drama unfolds.
The film’s power surfaces as Ethel’s unique value system and the intrinsic connection between the family’s private and public lives come into focus. Tales of the young brood attending Senate hearings, of heartfelt letters RFK wrote as a way of incorporating them into momentous political occasions, and of each child’s assignment to a social-justice mission reveal the respect and love that fueled Ethel’s household—a microcosm for what this country can be. Ethel Kennedy stands alongside her husband as a beacon of integrity and hope.
Kennedy has been to Sundance numerous times before, having previously directed AMERICAN HOLLOW (1999), GHOSTS OF ABU GHRAIB (2007), and THE FENCE (2010), and produced THE EXECUTION OF WANDA JEAN (2002), SHOUTING FIRE (2009), and BOBBY FISCHER AGAINST THE WORLD (2011). Kennedy works once again with Sheila Nevins and Nancy Abraham of HBO Documentaries.
Why You Should Watch:
As the eleventh and youngest of Ethel and Bobby Kennedy’s brood, Rory is in a privileged position to tell her parents’ stories, revealing a personal window into American royalty. While the film is named for her mother, Rory’s father is a constant presence, and though the filmmaker was born after his assassination, it’s clear that she, like the rest of her siblings interviewed here, were greatly shaped by both their strong-willed mother and their deeply-principled father. Anyone fascinated by the Kennedys will be immediately drawn to this incredibly intimate, warm, and personal portrait of a woman, her husband, and their family against the backdrop of one of the most turbulent times in the country’s recent history.