William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe

Institute History

  • 2009 Sundance Film Festival


One of the most infamous lawyers of the twentieth century, William Kunstler liked to shake things up. Filmmakers Emily and Sarah Kunstler explore their father’s life and legacy: from middle-class family man to celebrated radical activist to “the most hated lawyer in America.”

Kunstler’s resume is one for the storybooks. He fought for civil rights with Martin Luther King Jr. and catapulted to the world stage by defending the Chicago Eight. Soon Kunstler became the go-to guy for the radical left. When inmates rioted at Attica prison or Native Americans took on the federal government at Wounded Knee, they chose Kunstler as their lawyer. In the 1970s, when Emily and Sarah were growing up, their father transitioned away from civil-rights cases. Lured to the limelight of high-profile criminal cases, Kunstler represented accused rapists, terrorists, and Mafia bosses. Being on the unpopular side of the infamous Central Park jogger trial was perhaps the linchpin that triggered his fall from grace.

Was the real William Kunstler a hero or a villain? A defender of the defenseless or an egomaniac drawn to fame? Eschewing white-hat, black-hat simplicity, Emily and Sarah Kunstler share a provocative and deeply personal journey as they paint a complex portrait of a man whose life mirrors the battles that forever defined our history.

— David Courier

Screening Details

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