Sunday, May 05, 2002

RFK daughter uses film for social activism

By Margaret A. McGurk
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Rory Kennedy made her first documentary film shortly after she graduated from Brown University with a degree in women's studies.

        In Women of Substance, her subject was the plight of women jailed for using drugs while pregnant, a punitive approach that Ms. Kennedy found did more damage than good for both the addicts and their babies.

  What: 4C 30th Anniversary “Champions For Children” lecture
  Who: Rory Kennedy, documentary filmmaker
  When: Thursday. Patron reception 6 p.m.; lecture 7:30 p.m.; dessert buffet to follow
  Where: The Phoenix, 812 Race St., downtown
  Tickets: $130 patron; $40 general admission (including dessert)
  Contact: 947-8825
        She went on to produce and/or direct several other documentaries, including Epidemic Africa about the AIDS emergency, Fire in Our House about needle exchange programs in the United States, and Different Moms about mentally retarded parents. Her best known work is American Hollow, a 1999 Emmy-nominated documentary about the life of an isolated Appalachian family.

        All her films reflect the sense of social responsibility that she shares with members of Cincinnati's 4C For Children organization. She will deliver the group's 30th anniversary “Champions of Children” lecture Thursday at the Phoenix.

        Ms. Kennedy said filmmaking has enriched her life.

        “I think the craft of filmmaking isn't just about how people receive it. . . . The exposure is very important, but so much of what you gain from filmmaking is the process — meeting people, being allowed into their homes, being invited into very intimate moments of their lives.”

        The youngest daughter of Ethel and Robert Kennedy (she was born six months after her father's death in 1968), Ms. Kennedy has demonstrated her commitment to social activism through service to the Legal Action Center, the Project Return Foundation, Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation, and the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Delegations.

        While she admits to “embracing the medium (of film) as a tool of activism,” Ms. Kennedy said she strives to make sure her films are grounded in solid research.

        “I think what's very important is to maintain a level of journalistic integrity,” she said, but added, “I don't consider the medium to be objective. I don't, quite frankly, consider journalism to be an objective medium either.”

        Making documentaries inevitably means influencing the story that is being told, she said. “Just being there with the camera affects the outcomes. You're not just a fly on the wall, as much as we think we are.”

        When she speaks at 4C, Ms. Kennedy will show clips from some of her films and talk about the power of film to humanize suffering, so that, “You hopefully get people more connected and motivated to be involved.”


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