In WILLIAM KUNSTLER: DISTURBING THE UNIVERSE, filmmakers Emily Kunstler and Sarah Kunstler explore the life of their father, the late radical civil rights lawyer. In the 1960s and ‘70s, William Kunstler fought for civil rights with Martin Luther King Jr. and represented the famed “Chicago 8” activists who protested the Vietnam War. When the inmates took over Attica prison, or when the American Indian Movement stood up to the federal government at Wounded Knee, they asked Kunstler to be their lawyer.
To his daughters, it seemed that he was at the center of everything important that had ever happened. But when they were growing up, Kunstler represented some of the most reviled members of society, including rapists and assassins. This powerful film not only recounts the historic causes that Kunstler fought for; it also reveals a man that even his own daughters did not always understand, a man who risked public outrage and the safety of his family so that justice could serve all.
There’s little masking that this is a terribly biased documentary. A piece directed by someone’s own offspring is likely to be a little bit more than slanted and when researching the life of Kunstler online you find out a lot more about him than the documentary lets on. Those who are young enough to remember Kunstler when he was still making headlines will no doubt scoff at some of the overly kind material presented in the documentary, but it’s not as if you really expected the daughters of the man to come out and grill their own father.
Of course there is some light shed on some of Kunstler’s less-than-amicable cases that he handled as a lawyer, but overall this is quite a kinder picture to be painted of Kunstler than what you’ll most often find written and said about the man who represented John Gotti in trials. That is addressed in the film as well and while Kunstler’s daughters do remark on what they learned about their fathers work and his beliefs, they nonetheless are able to look at the world through his (some would say radical) viewpoint. For that reason alone it’s a very intriguing documentary to see as it’s mixed with so much home video and news reel footage that it’s sometimes hard to separate the William Kunstler who lived at home and who represented the Chicago 8.
Still, one can’t help his daughters for making a documentary like this, especially when they can not only see but also defend their father’s way of thinking. His actions have been brash and scandalous at times, but for as many “bad” people he may have fought for, he also freed a few of the innocent from a nasty sentencing as well, such as the Central Park jogger rape case that ultimately proved the innocence of the accused. So while the documentary may be biased at times, it does give a unique view of the man that is otherwise one that is often painted darkly by his critics (and peers). It’s still a Recommended viewing as it is very honest and truthful about the material it does present the viewer…it’s just the stuff that it neglects to that may be a bit off putting to some.
docurama/New Video releases William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe in a single disc (and clear) amaray DVD case. Nothing overly fancy about its presentation, as there are zero inserts inside (and the jacket is only single sided, so it’s just a bunch of empty white space staring up at you…kind of an odd piece to include in a clear amaray case, but it works anyway), only the disc. Video is clean and clear with solid detail and color levels. There is some compression to be seen here and there, but overall a very solid image nonetheless. Audio is similarly enjoyable, with a strong DD2.0 mix bringing all of the dialogue out front and center.
The one really good thing about this documentary? The amount of archival footage included within it. And the one really good thing about this DVD? The amount of extra archival footage that we get. Included on the disc:
Additional Interviews and Speeches by William Kunstler
William Kunstler’s Performance at Caroline’s Comedy Club
Kunstler Home Movies
Courtroom Audio and Archival Footage on the Chicago 8 Trial
Wounded Knee, and Attica
Interview with the Filmmakers
There are a lot of extras here to check out and a great deal of it I found possibly more entertaining than the documentary itself (notably the trial footage). It’s a very full selection of extras and we even get an interview with Kunstlers daughters, Emily and Sarah, who, of course, created this documentary. Quite honestly I found the extras to be just as revealing as the documentary itself and for that reason I can’t help but Recommend this DVD as well as the documentary itself. There’s a lot to watch and check out here and anyone who remembers or is interested in Kunstlers life shouldn’t hesitate to take a look.
William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe arrives on DVD on April 27th.