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Daughters' Film Documents Controversial Lawyer-Dad

The New York Times once called William Kunstler, "The most hated and most loved lawyer in America." In the 1960s and '70s, he was at the forefront of the civil rights movement and radical politics. Kunstler defended the Freedom Riders in Mississippi in 1961, the Chicago Seven after the 1968 Democratic National Convention, American Indian Movement leaders Russell Means and Dennis Banks after Wounded Knee in 1973, and Attica Prison inmate John Hill in 1974, accused of killing a guard during the riot there.

DTU_PosterBut in his later career, Kunstler -- who died in 1995 -- became "more visible, more venerated, more vilified than ever," as David Margolick wrote in the New York Times in 1993. He represented an Islamic fundamentalist charged with murdering a rabbi, a terrorist accused of bombing the World Trade Center, a teenager charged with participating in a near-fatal gang rape, and members of the Gambino organized crime family.

For two of his daughters, Emily and Sarah, born when Kunstler was almost 60, their father was somewhat of a paradox, they now say. Where once in their eyes, "he was a hero from legend, who stood at the center of everything important that had ever happened," by the time of his death, the then teenagers thought he had "stopped standing for anything worth fighting for."

Sarah went on to become a criminal defense lawyer in New York and Emily studied film at New York University. Together, they formed a documentary film company, Off Center Media, and produced a number of short documentaries. Now, the two sisters have produced and directed a documentary about their famous and controversial father, "William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe."

"This powerful film not only recounts the historic causes that Kunstler fought for," says a synopsis, "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."

The film has its theatrical release Friday at the Cinema Village in New York and the Kendall Square Cinema in Boston. It opens the following week in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Berkeley, Washington, D.C., and Seattle, and then in other cities in November and December. The film has already won several awards, including the L’Oreal Women of Worth Vision Award at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. View the film's trailer here.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on November 10, 2009 at 11:26 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)


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