The new documentary William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe explores the controversial life of the late radical civil rights lawyer as seen through the eyes of his two daughters, filmmakers Emily and Sarah Kunstler. The award-winning film traces Kunstler’s life and career, from his involvement in landmark civil rights and anti-war cases, to his later work that sparked public outrage and made him “the most hated lawyer in America.”
How did you come to be involved in the documentary?
Emily Kunstler was a student of mine when I was teaching in the undergraduate film department at NYU, and over the years she’d keep me posted on what she was working on. We met up again at the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival and shortly after I got a call to be a consultant, which eventually morphed into being a producer.
What drew you to the project?
The moment I sat down and saw footage of William Kunstler I knew that it was not going to be a normal portrait. He had such amazing humanity in him and such a high intellect. He went from being a darling of the [political] left to being someone who was very good at what he did, and yet was extremely hated for it.
What did you find challenging about making this film?
It’s very hard to make a personal documentary and I’ve ‘midwived’ many—it involves balancing intellectual detachment with emotional attachment. You don’t want to cut one or the other off, but somehow honor both. It’s both [William’s] biography and [Emily and Sarah’s] arc in the film—how these two sisters who are daughters of a loathed public figure have grown up with and negotiated his legacy.
William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe is playing at Cinema Village in Manhattan through Thursday, December 24.