By Diane Urbani de la Paz
Peninsula Daily News
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PORT ANGELES — As part of what many call America's royal family, Rory Kennedy was born into a life of privilege and tragedy.
This youngest child of Robert F. and Ethel Kennedy — born six months after her father's assassination in 1968 — has stayed out of the public eye.
She's devoted her life to telling true stories, stories of American struggle that don't often find their way into the glamor- and celebrity-focused media.
Kennedy, 43, is a multi-award-winning documentary filmmaker whose most recent movie, “Ethel,” tells her mother's story; it will make its television premiere
Oct. 18 on HBO.
“Ethel” is just one of the movies Kennedy will talk about making when she comes to Peninsula College on Thursday for two presentations: the 12:30 p.m. Studium Generale speech in the Little Theater and the “American Conversations” program at 6 p.m. in the Pirate Union Building.
While the Studium Generale talk is free to students and other community members, tickets to the American Conversations dinner are $95 per person to benefit the Peninsula College Foundation's scholarship fund.
Reservations will be accepted through Thursday at 360-417-6264.
In both presentations, Kennedy said from her home in Malibu, Calif., she'll be presenting clips “from documentaries I've made over the years.”
Her 25 films include “American Hollow,” about a family in Appalachia; “The Ghosts of Abu Ghraib,” winner of a 2007 Emmy for best nonfiction film; “The Fence,” an exploration of the barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border; and women's rights, political corruption and AIDS documentaries.
“The subjects are difficult. But I think if you look through the stories, so many of the films are about people's ability to endure and stand up in the face of such odds,” she said.
In her films, Kennedy hopes to illuminate how “one individual can make a difference. You don't have to change the world, but you can change your family's experience, your community's experience.”
Kennedy's own story is marked by far more than her share of loss.
The youngest of 11 siblings, she grew up without a father.
She and her mother have since endured the death of her brothers David, who died from a drug overdose in 1984, and Michael, who was in a fatal skiing accident in a 1997.
Then, in 1999, as Kennedy was getting ready to marry fiance Mark Bailey in Hyannis Port, Mass., she learned her cousin John F. Kennedy Jr.; his wife, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy; and Carolyn's sister, Lauren Bessette, had been killed in a plane crash off the coast of Martha's Vineyard.
Through it all, Kennedy has had a role model in her mother.
And after two decades of filmmaking, she has at last created a tribute in “Ethel.”
The movie saw its world premiere at this year's Sundance Film Festival in Utah, with Ethel and many Kennedy family members in attendance.
But Rory Kennedy never planned on making movies.
She earned a women's studies degree at Brown University in Providence, R.I., graduating in 1991, around the time cable television was becoming a major outlet for documentaries.
Her first film, “Women of Substance,” grew out of a college paper — and aired on PBS.
The Kennedy name “opened some doors in the beginning,” she acknowledged.
“But then you've got to prove yourself.”
In addition to the documentaries she produces and directs through her company, Moxie Firecracker Films, Kennedy gives about a dozen public presentations a year.
These include political speeches — Kennedy is a supporter of President Barack Obama and her nephew Joe Kennedy III, who is running for Congress.
As the Peninsula College Foundation's 15th annual American Conversations speaker, Kennedy fits in perfectly, said Mary Hunchberger, foundation executive director.
“We look for a name that has recognition,” she added, “and we look for someone who will make people think.”
“We want our students and community members who can't go to the evening [program] to be able to see her,” Hunchberger said, while noting that Kennedy's free presentation at 12:30 p.m. Thursday won't be the same as the evening's American Conversations program.
Both events are on the campus at 1502 E. Lauridsen Blvd.
For more details on Kennedy's appearance and other public programs on campus, visit www.PenCol.edu.
Features Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5062, or at email@example.com.