William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe

The 1960s’ and ’70s most famous, rabble-rousing and radical defense attorney is put on the witness stand and cross-examined by two of his daughters in this riveting and complex portrait. For Sarah and Emily Kunstler, making this film is not an exercise in hagiography. It’s an effort to understand and find reconciliation with a man who defended not only civil rights activists, the Chicago 7 and the Catonsville Nine Catholic antiwar campaigners, but also accused rapists, cop killers, terrorists and assassins. “Justice, Justice shalt thou pursue,” says the Torah, but Kunstler’s daughters ask, “At a certain point, was he standing for anything worth fighting for?” Had celebrity gone to his head? Was he, as Alan Dershowitz says, “a hypocrite”? With amazing archival footage, intimate home movies and the participation of many leading ’60s activists, this film revives the conflicts and injustices that stoked a generation, with Kunstler always on the frontlines—helping to prevent a massacre of American Indian militants at Wounded Knee, but failing to prevent one at New York’s notorious Attica State Prison. The sisters show us a charming crusader always ready to serve his clients with a higher sense of justice. He’s the kind of lawyer any revolutionary would want not just for the defense but for the cause. —Alan Snitow
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