Rory Kennedy

Rory Elizabeth Katherine Kennedy (born December 12, 1968) is an American documentary filmmaker and youngest child of U.S. Senator Robert Kennedy and Ethel Skakel. Kennedy has made documentary films that center on social issues such as addiction, nuclear radiation, the treatment of prisoners-of-war, and the politics of the Mexican border fence. Her films have been featured on many TV networks.

Rory Kennedy
Rory Kennedy in 2011
Rory Elizabeth Katherine Kennedy

(1968-12-12) December 12, 1968
Alma materBrown University
OccupationDocumentary filmmaker
Years active1990–present
Mark Bailey (m. 1999)
Parent(s)Robert Francis Kennedy
Ethel Skakel

Early life and education

She was born in Washington, D.C., six months after her father was assassinated. Her mother chose the name "Rory" after the last king of Ireland Rory O'Connor who ruled in the 12th century.

On December 19, 1968 (a week after Rory 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 during a protest outside the South African Embassy. When she was 15, her brother David died from a drug overdose. Rory graduated from Madeira School and then Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. During her sophomore year there, she organized a rally in front of a Providence supermarket. In solidarity with migrant farm workers, she urged shoppers to boycott grapes.[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 based in Washington, D.C. that specializes in the production and distribution of films with a social conscience. Women of Substance was Kennedy's first documentary. The film was released in 1994, and 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, which specializes in documentaries that highlight pressing social issues.[5] 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), a film about a struggling Appalachian family that received critical acclaim and many awards. HBO broadcast the film and publisher Little, Brown and Company simultaneously released Kennedy's companion book. 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. The movie 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 Kennedy was asked in a March 24, 2004, interview with Salon about her interest in the American South, she cited her father's experiences in the region as an inspiration and starting point.[9] 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 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 Ethel, which was a documentary about her own mother. The movie premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and aired on HBO on October 18, 2012.[15] Reviews portrayed the documentary as a moving tribute, but criticized its lack of depth.[15][16] Kennedy conducted interviews with her siblings over five days at the Kennedy family compound in Hyannis Port. For the finished film, she went through "some 100 hours" of archive footage, photos and home videos.[17]

Last Days in Vietnam was directed by Kennedy and co-produced with Keven McAlester; the documentary film 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 abuse and concluded that 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] Referring to 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]

On January 11, 2019, Kennedy co-authored a Rolling Stone opinion piece with Red Hot Chili Peppers singer Anthony Kiedis and the Malibu Foundation's Trevor Neilson on the current climate crisis. [23]

2008 Barack Obama endorsement

Kennedy announced her support of Barack Obama as 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.[24]

Kennedy subsequently endorsed Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016.[25]

Personal life

Following graduation, Kennedy moved to New York and then briefly to Los Angeles.[26] Kennedy's brother Michael LeMoyne Kennedy died in December 1997 as a result of a skiing accident. She was with him at the time of the accident and tried to save his life by giving him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Despite her efforts, he had been fatally injured and his blood stained her mouth.[3] Kennedy attended his funeral in January 1998.[27]

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.[26] 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. and his wife and her sister crashed en route to the event. The tent intended for the wedding became a site for family prayers during the search for her cousin.[28] In the months following John Jr.'s death, Kennedy declined to speak publicly about the plane crash.

In October 1999, Kennedy and her husband moved with their dog Clementine to a new home in a West Village neighborhood they reportedly "loved."[26]

Rory and Mark have two daughters, Georgia Elizabeth Kennedy-Bailey (b. 2002) and Bridget Katherine Kennedy-Bailey (b. 2004), and one son, Zachary Corkland Kennedy-Bailey (b. 2007)[29]

Around the time of the birth of her second daughter in 2004, Kennedy and her husband purchased a home.[30] 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.[31][32]

Rory's 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.[33]

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".[34]

According to, Kennedy purchased a home in Malibu, California, in January 2013 and currently resides there.[35]

Public image

Prior to the 1990s, Kennedy was said to have been known solely for being the child who was born after the assassination of her father, Robert F. Kennedy. Following the plane crash of her cousin John F. Kennedy, Jr., she established notability for being the cousin 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."[26]

She has elicited sympathy in some corners. Edward Klein wrote 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 save the life of her brother Michael Kennedy.[36]

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".[37]



  • Kennedy, Rory; Lehman, Steve; Bailey, Mark (1999). American Hollow. Boston. Bulfinch Press (Little, Brown). ISBN 0-8212-2631-2

See also


  1. Oppenheimer, Jerry (May 15, 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. Frey, Jennifer (July 21, 1999). "Rory: The Quiet Kennedy". The Washington Post.
  4. Appleford, Steve (September 20, 2014). "Rory Kennedy recounts the 1975 fall of Saigon in new film". Los Angeles Times.
  5. "About". Moxie Firecracker Films. Retrieved September 14, 2018.
  6. "Filmmaker Rory Kennedy To Appear In Sept. 13 Wittenberg Series Event" (Press release). Wittenberg University. September 2001. Archived from the original on 2015-05-07.
  7. Fine, Arlene (October 19, 2001). "Filmmaker Rory Kennedy focuses on social issues". Cleveland Jewish News. Archived from the original on March 28, 2015.
  8. Kopple, Barbara (Summer 2003). "True Tales from the Global Crisis". Filmmaker. Retrieved September 14, 2018.
  9. Traister, Rebecca (March 24, 2004). "A harrowing, inspiring Boy's Life" Archived 2007-12-23 at the Wayback Machine Salon. Accessed August 25, 2009.
  10. 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. Stewart, Andrew (June 30, 2009). "AMPAS Invites 134 to join ranks". Variety.
  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". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 July 2013.
  15. 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. McDonnell, Brandy (February 20, 2015). "Oscar-nominated documentary 'Last Days in Vietnam' has Oklahoma ties". Tulsa World. Retrieved September 14, 2018.
  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. "Anthony Kiedis: 'California Is on the Front Lines of the Climate Crisis'". RollingStone. February 28, 2018.
  24. Kennedy, Rory (February 2, 2008). "Rory Kennedy: Two Fine Choices, One Clear Decision - Obama". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved August 25, 2009.
  25. Keough, Peter (May 7, 2015). "Fuse Film Interview: Rory Kennedy defends "Last Days in Vietnam"". The Arts Fuse.
  26. Gates, Anita (November 28, 1999). "TELEVISION/RADIO; A Filmmaker Now Known for Two Families". The New York Times.
  27. "Michael Kennedy laid to rest". CNN. January 3, 1998.
  28. "Rory Kennedy full of mixed emotions". USA Today. July 21, 1999.
  29. 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.
  30. "A Kennedy Sells Park Slope Townhouse". Brownstoner. January 17, 2013.
  31. Donato, Nicki (December 17, 2009). "Rory Kennedy Sells Shelter Island Waterfront for Nearly $3 Million". Curbed Hamptons.
  32. Mann, Laura (December 16, 2009). "Rory Kennedy sells Shelter Island home for $2.967 million". Newsday.
  33. Malec, Brett (September 15, 2012). "Taylor Swift and Conor Kennedy Make Very Sweet Couple: I Love Her, Says Rory Kennedy". E! News.
  34. "Kerry Kennedy ate carrots, cappuccino, Ambien for breakfast on day of DWI arrest: testimony". New York Daily News. February 25, 2014.
  35. 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.
  36. 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.
  37. Hibbard, Andrew (January 14, 2010). "Full Frame to honor Garbus, Kennedy". The Chronicle. Durham, North Carolina. Archived from the original on November 3, 2014.
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