When she was a young woman, Ethel Skakel met a handsome young man on a skiing trip and they soon fell in love and married. That man, Bobby Kennedy, went on to become one of the central figures in American politics in the 1950's and 60's. But few know Ethel Kennedy's own amazing story, the story of a wife, mother and humanitarian who experienced first hand some of the most important events of our times. In Ethel, director Rory Kennedy shares her mother's story with grace, humor and a deep passion for life, creating one of the most entertaining documentary films of the year.
Ethel screens Sunday, April 15 @ 6:45 PM with Rory Kennedy in Attendance and Monday, April 16 @ 7:30 PM with Rory Kennedy in Attendance.
Rory Kennedy will also appear IN CONVERSATION on Monday, April 16 @ 5:30 PM at Sarasota High School.\
THE INSIDER: What inspired you to make a documentary about your mother's life?
RORY KENNEDY: My mother is an extraordinary woman. I was inspired to share her personal history with a broader audience. She has lived a remarkable life, a life that is intertwined with our collective national history. She has been on the front lines of many major events in American history. So her story and that of my family, is, in many ways, an American story. I certainly learned a lot in making this film—and I hope it has something to offer.
THE INSIDER: Did you expect her to agree to serving as your subject?
RORY KENNEDY: I thought she would never do it.
Sheila Nevins at HBO approached me about doing a documentary about my mother and I was resistant at first because it's my mother, it's personal. But I also felt that my mother has this extraordinary story and it would be a great opportunity to share this remarkable person with the rest of the world. My mother hadn't given an interview in 30 years—she really dislikes them. I figured I would just ask my mother and she would say no and I could tell HBO my mother said no. Then I asked my mother and she said yes!
THE INSIDER: Would you share a few details that truly surprised you about your mother's life that you learned while making the film?
RORY KENNEDY: I didn't know that my mother used to bet on the horses when she was at college. Or that my father and siblings slid down the banister of the White House the day Jack and Jackie moved in. I didn't know that our pet seal Sammy ate fish but spit out the eyes... So there were a few new facts I picked up along the way, but the greatest gift was gaining a deeper understanding of my mother.
THE INSIDER: Do you feel that you know your mother better for having gone through this process with her?
RORY KENNEDY: She is a force of nature. I knew it going in, but have an even greater appreciation for her now.
THE INSIDER: What do you hope audiences will take from this very personal and evocative journey?
RORY KENNEDY: From the start I wanted to tell my mother's story through the lens of her own experience, but also hear it from those who know her best—my brothers and sisters. It was to be a film about her life with my father and her life after my father was gone; a film about our family, but about more than that too. My mother's story is intertwined with our nation's larger history—from the Cold War to the Civil Rights movement, from the War on Poverty to the war in Vietnam.
Part of my hope is that, in sharing my mother's story, others might take away their own insights—something to be learned, maybe, about my mother or my family, about raising children, or perhaps something about our American past, and our collective humanity.
And also, that they maybe have a deeper appreciation of my parents' enduring love story (just as I do). They were two people who were lucky to find each other, and who drew strength from each other amid the extraordinary social upheaval that surrounded them. And I find that deeply moving.
THE INSIDER: What else would you like audiences to know about Ethel?
RORY KENNEDY: I had initially conceived of the project as a single interview with my mother—an "in her own words" type of film. Then as I became more familiar with the archival material, I noticed that my siblings were always there—from the Hoffa Hearings, to the various campaigns; from John F. Kennedy's Inauguration as President to the integration of the University of Alabama. The children played an integral role in all aspects of my parents' lives, and I felt their perspective was important.
Also, there have been a number of films done about my family over the years that included friends and associates who worked with my father, or perhaps writers or journalists who covered my family. I wanted Ethel to be a more intimate portrait, a film not just about my family but from my family—a deeply personal perspective about the events that shaped both us and our country.
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