Rory Kennedy

Rory Kennedy

Rory Kennedy (2011)
Born Rory Elizabeth Katherine Kennedy
(1968-12-12) December 12, 1968
Washington, D.C., United States
Alma mater Brown University
Occupation Documentary filmmaker
Years active 1990–present
Spouse(s) Mark Bailey
Children 3
Parent(s) Robert Francis Kennedy
Ethel Skakel

Rory Elizabeth Katherine Kennedy (born December 12, 1968) is an American documentary filmmaker, and youngest child of U.S. Senator Robert Francis "Bobby" Kennedy and Ethel Kennedy.

Although her father was assassinated before she was born, Kennedy consciously relates to his philanthropic mission, and her core activity is the making of documentary films that centre on social issues. These include addiction, nuclear radiation, the treatment of prisoners-of-war, and the politics of the Mexican border-fence, and her films have been featured on many TV networks. It was to her wedding that her cousin John F. Kennedy Jr, his wife, and his sister in law were flying when they were killed in a plane crash.

Early life and education

She was born in Washington, D.C. six months after her father was assassinated. Her mother chose the name "Rory" because she felt it bore resemblance to her father's nickname "Bobby." On December 19, 1968, a week after Kennedy was born, her mother took her to her father's grave at Arlington National Cemetery.[1] Kennedy's older brother Michael LeMoyne Kennedy was assigned as her godparent by their mother. Friends of the Kennedy family said the pair spoke almost every day of their lives.[2] When Rory was a teenager, she was arrested outside the South African Embassy. At age 15, Her brother David died in 1984 from a drug overdose. Rory graduated from The Madeira School and then Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. During her sophomore year there, she organized a rally in front of a Providence, Rhode Island supermarket. She urged shoppers to boycott grapes in solidarity with migrant farm workers.[3]


In the 1990s, Rory and fellow Brown classmate Vanessa Vadim (daughter of Roger Vadim and Jane Fonda) formed May Day Media, a non-profit organization that specializes in the production and distribution of films with a social conscience, based in Washington, D.C. Kennedy's first documentary was Women of Substance. Released in 1994, the idea came out of a paper she wrote while a student at Brown on female addicts.[4] In 1998 Kennedy and another fellow Brown graduate Liz Garbus founded Moxie Firecracker Films[5] which specializes in documentaries that highlight pressing social issues. The television networks that have shown its films include: A&E, the UK's Channel 4, Court TV, Discovery Channel, HBO, Lifetime, MTV, Oxygen, PBS, Sundance Channel, and TLC.

She directed and co-produced American Hollow (1999) about a struggling Appalachian family which received critical acclaim and many awards. HBO broadcast the film and publisher Little, Brown and Company released Kennedy's companion book simultaneously. Kennedy presented the documentary at Wittenberg University on September 13, 2001. After the film's presentation, she answered questions.[6] In October 2001, Kennedy traveled to Cleveland, Ohio to address the opening meeting of the National Council of Jewish Women. At the meeting, she spoke about her documentary film-production company Change the World Through Film.[7]

Kennedy directed and co-produced the Emmy Award-nominated series Pandemic: Facing AIDS (2003), which premiered at the International AIDS Conference in Barcelona, Spain, on July 8, 2002. It was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and it tells the real stories of Aids patients outside the Western world. It was broadcast in America as a five-part series on HBO in June 2003.[8]

Kennedy directed and co-produced A Boy’s Life (2004), the story of a young boy and his family in rural Mississippi. It premiered to rave reviews at the 2003 Tribeca Film Festival and was awarded the Best Documentary prize at the Woodstock Film Festival; it was later broadcast on HBO.

When asked in a March 24, 2004, interview with [9] about her interest in the American South, Kennedy cited her father's experiences in the region as an inspiration and starting point. In the same article, she goes on to mention that showing class differences in American culture also motivates her.

For HBO she directed and co-produced Indian Point: Imagining the Unimaginable (2004), which was broadcast on September 9, 2004. The film takes a "what if" look at the catastrophic consequences of a radioactive release at the Indian Point Energy Center, a three-unit nuclear-power plant station, located 35 miles (56 km) north of midtown Manhattan, New York City, New York.

Rory directed and co-produced Homestead Strike (2006) as part of The History Channel’s series, 10 Days that Unexpectedly Changed America (April 2006).

She was a co-executive producer for Street Fight (2005), which chronicles the 2002 Newark, New Jersey, unsuccessful mayoral campaign of Democratic Cory Booker — then a Newark Municipal Councilman — against Democratic eighteen-year incumbent Mayor Sharpe James. The film earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary (Feature). (Booker later won the mayoral election on May 9, 2006, against Democratic Ronald Rice; James did not seek re-election for another four-year term in 2006.)

Kennedy directed and co-produced Ghosts of Abu Ghraib (2007) which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and won the 2007 Primetime Emmy Award for Best Documentary. Kennedy first learned of the Abu Ghraib prison when images came out in the media, which were accompanied by a New Yorker article by Seymour Hersh. According to Kennedy, she was "horrified and shocked and disgusted" by the images of the naked prisoners and laughing American soldiers. She conducted interviews with people who were present at the prison along with those directly involved in the abuse. Kennedy's opinion of the participants changed after she interviewed them, where she began feeling they "were very humane and very much like me" and discovered they "were not monsters."[10]

She directed Thank You, Mr. President: Helen Thomas at the White House (2008) for HBO Documentary Films, which premiered on HBO on August 18, 2008. According to reviews, the 40 minute long documentary provided an interesting, if brief, glimpse into the iconic journalist.[11]

On June 30, 2009, Kennedy was invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.[12]

Kennedy directed "The Fence (La Barda)" which premiered at the opening night of The Sundance Film Festival 2010. The film made its debut on HBO on September 16, 2010. Favorably received, it details the woeful inadequacies of the border fence between the United States and Mexico, which has increased migrants' deaths, but does not deter illegal immigration.[13][14]

In 2011 she produced and directed the documentary Ethel about her mother, which premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, and aired on HBO on October 18, 2012.[15] Reviews called the documentary a moving tribute, but criticized its lack of depth.[15][16] Kennedy conducted interviews with her siblings over five days in Hyannis Port at the Kennedy family compound. For the finished film, she went through "some 100 hours" of archive footage, photos and home videos.[17]

Last Days in Vietnam, directed by Kennedy and co-produced with Keven McAlester, debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2014. During production of the film, she spoke with U.S. military and Vietnam nationals now in the U.S. and said the most exciting part of the film to her was "telling the untold stories about Americans and Vietnamese who were on the ground, who went against U.S. policy and risked their lives to save Vietnamese".[4] Kennedy was reported to have signed with Nonfiction Unlimited in May 2014.[18] In September 2014, Last Days in Vietnam opened at the Nuart Theater in Los Angeles.[4] Kennedy had difficulty getting some of the people featured in her film to get involved. Out of them, she believed Henry Kissinger had the most reluctance to the project. On their reluctance, Kennedy stated: "I think a lot of those folks suffered post-traumatic stress from that moment. When I asked them to relive it, it really took a toll. Many of the people told me it took them a week to recover from the interviews. I've gotten tons of emails from people in Vietnam who can't see the film because it's too traumatic for them."[19] Last Days in Vietnam was nominated as Best Documentary Feature for the 87th Academy Awards.[20]

Activism and politics

Kennedy advocates for several social activism organizations and sits on the board of numerous non-profit organizations. In March 2010, Kennedy gave a presentation at The Ritz-Carlton, where she spoke on the effects of alcohol and drug use and concluded addiction and domestic violence "are intricately connected.” She also voiced her support of treatment options, calling them "more important than the criminal justice approach". Executive director and CEO of Comprehensive Alcoholism Rehabilitation Programs Robert Bozzone agreed with her opinion and added, "If you listen to Rory, treatment is more effective than incarceration.[21] On the shooting of Michael Brown, Kennedy believed the reason it garnered national media attention "is that it’s a touch point that indicates a larger social challenge that we all need to mull over and try to grapple with in a thoughtful and considerate way, and I think it has to do both with race and class."[22]

2008 Barack Obama endorsement

Kennedy announced her support of Barack Obama being the Democratic Party's nominee in the 2008 U.S. presidential election in an op-ed essay, "Two fine choices, one clear decision - Obama", in the San Francisco Chronicle stating:

Last Monday, I was very moved to see my uncle, Sen. Ted Kennedy, and my cousin, Caroline Kennedy, publicly endorse Sen. Barack Obama. I thought their statements of support were brave, intelligent and responsible. Given the importance of this election, and the remarkable strength of our candidates, it's not an easy decision for anyone looking to cast a vote for a new direction in this country..... Recently, my mother, Ethel Kennedy, said of Obama: 'I think he feels it. He feels it just like Bobby did. He has the passion in his heart. He's not selling you. It's just him.' I agree. Obama is a genuine leader. We Americans - women included - desperately need that kind of leader now. Not a president of a particular gender or a specific race, but a president with a different vision, one who inspires a sense of hope.[23]

Kennedy went on to endorse Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in 2016.[24]

Personal life

Kennedy moved to New York following graduation and then briefly in Los Angeles.[25] Kennedy's brother Michael LeMoyne Kennedy died in late December 1997 as a result of a skiing accident. She was with him at the time of his death and tried to resuscitate him by giving mouth-to-mouth. Despite her efforts, he was fatally injured and his blood stained her mouth.[3] Kennedy attended his funeral in January 1998.[26] On August 2, 1999, Kennedy married Mark Bailey in Greece at the mansion of shipping tycoon Vardis Vardinoyiannis. Kennedy met Bailey in Washington through mutual friends after graduating from Brown University.[25] The wedding was originally scheduled for July 17 in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, but was postponed after the plane carrying her cousin John F. Kennedy, Jr. crashed en route to the event. The tent intended for the wedding became a site for family prayers during the search for her cousin.[27] In the months following John Jr.'s death, Kennedy declined to speak of his plane crash publicly. In October 1999, Kennedy and her husband moved with their dog Clementine to a new home in the West Village in a neighborhood they reportedly "loved."[25]

Rory and Mark have two daughters, Georgia Elizabeth Kennedy-Bailey (b. 2002); Bridget Katherine Kennedy-Bailey (b. 2004); and one son, Zachary Corkland Kennedy-Bailey (b. 2007)[28] The family resides in Brooklyn, New York. Around the time of the birth of her second daughter in 2004, Kennedy and her husband purchased a home.[29] Kennedy went on maternity leave from her filmmaking career for the birth of her son in 2007.[10] She sold her Shelter Island home in December 2009.[30][31] Her nephew Conor dated Taylor Swift in 2012. According to her mother Ethel, Swift began associating with the family after Rory attended a concert of hers with her daughters, Georgia and Bridget. Kennedy said she loved the singer and her music.[32] In July 2012, Kennedy's sister Kerry swerved her Lexus SUV into a tractor-trailer on Interstate 684. During the trial in February 2014, Kennedy defended her sister by insisting that she had "reputation for sobriety and general healthy living".[33] According to, Kennedy purchased a home in Malibu, California in January 2013.[34]

Public image

Prior to the 1990s, Kennedy was said to have been known solely for being the child of Robert F. Kennedy born after his death. Following the plane crash of her cousin John F. Kennedy, Jr., she established notability for being the relative whose wedding he planned to attend. Anita Gates of The New York Times wrote that Kennedy would understandably want to be known as "the one who became a filmmaker."[25]

She has elicited sympathy in some corners, with Edward Klein writing in his book The Kennedy Curse: Why Tragedy Has Haunted America's First Family for 150 Years that Rory Kennedy "had suffered more from the Kennedy Curse than any other member of the family." Klein then listed the deaths of her father and brother David, as well as her role in unsuccessfully attempting to prevent the death of Michael Kennedy.[35]

Kennedy has spoken of her work and its relation to that of her father. "I don’t think of it as a continuation of his work, but I certainly think I was influenced by the person that he was and have made a range of choices because of what he contributed to the world. I have enormous respect for all that he accomplished in his short life and how much he was able to move people and touch people. I’ve certainly been inspired by that."[10] On January 14, 2010, Full Frame announced Kennedy and Liz Garbus would be the recipients of that year's Career Award. In the press release, Full Frame called the duo's work "unique".[36]



Documentary filmography (as director)

  • American Hollow (1999)
  • Different Moms (1999)
  • Epidemic Africa (1999)
  • The Changing Face of Beauty (2000)
  • America: Up In Arms (2000)
  • All Kinds of Families (2001)
  • Healthy Start (2001)
  • Pandemic: Facing AIDS (2003)
  • A Boy's Life (2004)
  • Indian Point: Imagining the Unimaginable (2004)
  • Homestead Strike (2006)
  • Ghosts of Abu Ghraib (2007)
  • Thank You Mr. President: Helen Thomas at the White House (2008)
  • The Fence (2010)
  • Ethel (2012)
  • Last Days in Vietnam (2013)

Documentary filmography (as producer)

  • The Execution of Wanda Jean (2002)
  • Sixteen (2002) in four parts:
    • Schooling Jewel
    • Sex Talk
    • Pepa's Fight
    • Refuse to Lose
  • Hidden Crisis: Women and AIDS (2002)
  • Together: Stop Violence Against Women (2003)
  • The Nazi Officer's Wife (2003)
  • Girlhood (2004)
  • Xiara's Song (2004)
  • Street Fight (2005)
  • Yo Soy Boricua (2006)
  • Ghosts of Abu Ghraib (2007)
  • Coma (2007)
  • The Fence (2010)
  • Bobby Fischer Against the World (2011)
  • Ethel (2012)

See also


  1. Oppenheimer, Jerry (1995). The Other Mrs. Kennedy : An Intimate and Revealing Look at the Hidden Life of Ethel Skakel Kennedy. St. Martin's Paperbacks. pp. 495–496. ISBN 978-0312956004.
  2. Mehren, Elizabeth (January 4, 1998). "Kennedy Family, Friends Say Farewell to Michael". Los Angeles Times.
  3. 1 2 Frey, Jennifer (July 21, 1999). "Rory: The Quiet Kennedy".
  4. 1 2 3 Appleford, Steve (September 20, 2014). "Rory Kennedy recounts the 1975 fall of Saigon in new film".
  6. "Filmmaker Rory Kennedy To Appear In Sept. 13 Wittenberg Series Event". Wittenberg University. September 2001.
  7. Fine, Arlene (October 19, 2001). "Filmmaker Rory Kennedy focuses on social issues". Cleveland Jewish News.
  8. True Tales from the Global Crisis, Film Maker magazine
  9. Traister, Rebecca (March 24, 2004). "A harrowing, inspiring Boy's Life" Accessed August 25, 2009.
  10. 1 2 3 Dancis, Bruce (June 15, 2007). "Rory Kennedy Reveals the Ghosts of Abu Ghraib". PopMatters.
  11. McNamara, Mary (August 18, 2008). "Review: 'Thank You, Mr. President: Helen Thomas at the White House' on HBO". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 July 2013.
  12. Academy Invites 134 to Membership | Press Release | The Academy
  13. Grove, Lloyd (Sep 14, 2010). "A Kennedy on the Fence". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 1 July 2013.
  14. Hale, Mike (September 15, 2010). "Fences Make Good Neighbors? This One Has Its Doubters". Retrieved 1 July 2013.
  15. 1 2 Stanley, Alessandra (October 17, 2012). "Cheerfulness Amid Calamity". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 July 2013.
  16. Stuever, Hank (October 11, 2012). "HBO's 'Ethel': A Kennedy daughter, born late, reaches into the vault of memories". The Washington Post. Retrieved 1 July 2013.
  17. Zibart, Eve. "Rory Kennedy on the Making of 'Ethel'". Boston Common.
  18. Jardine, Alexandra (May 7, 2014). "Greg Bell Signs with Backyard, Rory Kennedy Joins Nonfiction and More". Advertising Age.
  19. Pond, Steve (September 19, 2014). "Rory Kennedy: 'We Haven't Learned the Lessons From Vietnam'". TheWrap.
  20. "Last Days in Vietnam". The Oscars. Retrieved February 16, 2015.
  21. Paine, Chris (March 24, 2010). "Rory Kennedy delivers message of social justice to CARP fundraiser". Palm Beach Daily News.
  22. Stern, Marlow (September 1, 2014). "Rory Kennedy on 'Last Days in Vietnam,' the Parallels Between Vietnam and Iraq, and Ferguson". The Daily Beast.
  23. Kennedy, Rory (February 2, 2008). "Rory Kennedy: Two Fine Choices, One Clear Decision - Obama". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved August 25, 2009.
  25. 1 2 3 4 Gates, Anita (November 28, 1999). "TELEVISION/RADIO; A Filmmaker Now Known for Two Families". The New York Times.
  26. "Michael Kennedy laid to rest". CNN. January 3, 1998.
  27. "Rory Kennedy full of mixed emotions". USA Today. July 21, 1999.
  28. Beggy, Carol and Mark Shanahan, Mark (July 17, 2009). "Busy Moore Takes Time to Sing Local Costar's Praises". The Boston Globe. Accessed August 25, 2009.
  29. "A Kennedy Sells Park Slope Townhouse". Brownstoner. January 17, 2013.
  30. Donato, Nicki (December 17, 2009). "Rory Kennedy Sells Shelter Island Waterfront for Nearly $3 Million". Curbed Hamptons.
  31. Mann, Laura (December 16, 2009). "Rory Kennedy sells Shelter Island home for $2.967 million". Newsday.
  32. Malec, Brett (September 15, 2012). "Taylor Swift and Conor Kennedy Make Very Sweet Couple: I Love Her, Says Rory Kennedy".
  33. "Kerry Kennedy ate carrots, cappuccino, Ambien for breakfast on day of DWI arrest: testimony". New York Daily News. February 25, 2014.
  34. Sheftell, Jason (February 19, 2013). "Filmmaker Rory Kennedy, daughter of Robert F. Kennedy, buys $2.9 million home on Malibu's Point Dume". New York Daily News.
  35. Klein, Edward (2004). The Kennedy Curse: Why Tragedy Has Haunted America's First Family for 150 Years. St. Martin's Griffin. pp. 218–219. ISBN 978-0312312930.
  36. Hibbard, Andrew (January 14, 2010). "Full Frame to honor Garbus, Kennedy". The Chronicle.
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