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PARK CITY, Utah – Rory Kennedy, the youngest member of Ethel and the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy’s clan, is headed home to New York today.

She didn’t leave with a coveted Sundance Film Festival Award for her documentary, “American Hollow,” but she does have what every filmmaker here was hoping for – a production deal.

Rory snagged a development deal with Home Box Office for her documentary about an Appalachian family before the film was even finished.

It will be released theatrically in New York, then aired on HBO during the November sweeps.

“HBO was involved from the outset and that was really great for us,” Kennedy told the Track.

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The 30-year-old sister of former U. S. Rep. Joe Kennedy has been making documentaries for several years, but this was the first accepted to the prestigious Sundance festival.

“I was absolutely thrilled,” she said. “It was such a great experience to come here and see all these wonderful films.

“And Sundance really does put documentaries on the same playing field as dramas. It was a trophy just getting here.”

Kennedy, who has done previous films about female substance abusers and needle exchange programs, began this project looking to do a film about the effect of welfare reform on poor families in Appalachia.

Then she met Iree Bowling, the 68-year-old mother of 13 and grandmother of 30 whose family’s life in Saul, Ky., is beset by poverty and domestic turmoil.

Rory filmed the family for almost a year; and as the cameras rolled, one of Iree’s sons was jailed for trespassing, a granddaughter was battered by her husband and a 17-year-old grandson proposed marriage to his flighty girlfriend.

The Sundance reviewer raved that Rory’s true-life flick “emerges as a humanistic, life-affirming exploration of love and kinship in the face of adversity.”

“It’s a lifestyle that you really don’t see anymore in America,” Kennedy said. “It’s a very poor region but Iree doesn’t consider herself poor. All of her children at one point left but they’re all back and have their homes and families right near her.

“She looks around and sees her family, these beautiful hills and her gardens and says ‘I’m as rich as the Lord wants me to be.’ ”

Kennedy, who got the flu in Park City but recovered in time for her final screening of “American Hollow” over the weekend, said she likes to take on film projects in order to “tell stories that would otherwise go unheard.”

Consequently, she formed a production company, Moxie Firecracker, with Elizabeth Garbus, whose “The Farm: Angola, USA,” won the Sundance documentary competition in 1998.

The documentary-making duo recently completed “Different Moms,” a one-hour film about mentally retarded mothers raising their kids.

It will air on Lifetime in April.

So, did the Kennedy family’s famed commitment to the less-fortunate have any influence on Rory’s choice of subjects????

“Obviously my family has been interested in a range of social issues and I think that certainly is a factor,” she said.

“But this film was less an advocacy-educational thing. It was more that the family led the camera and we had no idea where it would go. Ultimately it took us many different places and that was a very rewarding process.”

File under: Family Values.

Distributing the best

While none of the made-in-Massachusetts movies took home any of the coveted Sundance Film Festival awards over the weekend, the filmmakers are closing in on the real prize – distribution deals.

Steve Maler, director of “The Autumn Heart,” said they’ve had lots of interest from foreign distributors and a couple of Hollywood studio honchos want a look at the film in La-La ASAP.

Meanwhile, Michelle LeBrun had discussions with distributors interested in her documentary, “Death: A Love Story,” during the festival and she’s hopeful about snagging a deal.

For the record, the award winners at Sundance were “Three Seasons,” the Harvey Keitel movie about the ‘new’ Vietnam, and “American Movie” a documentary about an impoverished but inspired filmmaker.

Guess that one got the sympathy vote!

Independent living

And then there’s Alec Baldwin. The actor, who sat on a panel at the indie flickfest, called the Sundance Film Festival the “Playboy Mansion of Filmmaking.”

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“Everybody gets in bed with whomever they have always wanted to get into bed

with,” he said.

Then he turned to another panelist and said, “I’ve always dug you. Let’s do a film together.”

Oh, we bet lots of “independent” movie deals went down that way in Hugh Hefner’s bunny hutch!

Hasty decisions

Meanwhile, back here at home, those crazy kids at Harvard’s Hasty Pudding Theatricals will announce this morning their annual picks for Woman and Man of the Year.

Oh, bless their Hasty little hearts for bringing Hollywood to Harvard in oh-so-dreary February!

Last year, Sigourney Weaver – like Pretty Woman Julia Roberts before her and Susan Sarandon before her – was paraded through Harvard Square. Then a week later, Kevin Kline came In for an Out-ing a la past winners Mel Gibson and Harrison Ford at the Hasties’ annual madcap musical.

This year’s production is “I Get No Kick From Campaign,” which doesn’t sound like a drag at all!

Clothes call for Beck

And finally, the big rumor on Newbury Street the other day was that Beck thought Louis, Boston was Where It’s At.

Word is, the haute haberdashers opened their doors earlier for the rocker with the Devil’s Haircut – but nice threads – to run through the racks.

Talk back to the Inside Track online at bostonherald.com and listen to us weekdays at 6:55 p.m. on WBZ 1030 AM. Drop dimes at trackgals@aol.com.

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