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William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe (2009)

Not Rated | | Documentary | November 2009 (USA)
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William Kunstler was one of the most famous lawyers of the 20th century. The New York Times called him "the most hated and most loved lawyer in America." His clients included Martin Luther ... See full summary »
1 win & 2 nominations. See more awards »





Credited cast:
Herman Badillo Herman Badillo ... Himself
Harry Belafonte ... Himself
Clyde Bellecourt Clyde Bellecourt ... Himself
Daniel Berrigan Daniel Berrigan ... Himself
Julian Bond Julian Bond ... Himself
Jimmy Breslin ... Himself
Alan M. Dershowitz ... Himself
Phil Donahue ... Himself
Elizabeth M. Fink Elizabeth M. Fink ... Herself
Fred Hampton Fred Hampton ... Himself (archive footage)
Madonna Thunder Hawk Madonna Thunder Hawk ... Herself
Tom Hayden ... Himself
Bruce Jackson Bruce Jackson ... Himself
Ronald Kuby Ronald Kuby ... Himself (as Ron Kuby)
Karin Kunstler Goldman Karin Kunstler Goldman ... Herself


William Kunstler was one of the most famous lawyers of the 20th century. The New York Times called him "the most hated and most loved lawyer in America." His clients included Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Phillip and Daniel Berrigan, Abbie Hoffman, H. Rap Brown, Stokely Carmichael, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., and Leonard Peltier. In Disturbing the Universe: Radical Lawyer William Kunstler, filmmakers Emily Kunstler and Sarah Kunstler explore their father's life, from middle-class family man, to movement lawyer, to "the most hated lawyer in America." Written by Anonymous

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


The story of controversial civil rights lawyer William Kunstler as told by his daughters.




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Official Sites:

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Release Date:

November 2009 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Disturbing the Universe: Radical Lawyer William Kunstler See more »


Box Office

Opening Weekend USA:

$10,322, 15 November 2009, Limited Release

Gross USA:

$57,769, 20 December 2009
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Company Credits

Production Co:

Off Center Media See more »
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Technical Specs


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User Reviews

as much about his daughter's evolving views as the man's life and work
7 February 2011 | by Buddy-51See all my reviews

Don't let the fact that the documentary "William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe" was produced, written and directed by his two daughters, Emily and Sarah, lead you to assume that this is just some reflexive puff-piece on the man and his life. Indeed, with a scrupulous desire for balance and fairness, the filmmakers acknowledge the controversial nature of their father and his work, while at the same time evincing the love and affection any daughters would feel for a devoted parent. In fact, they even admit that, as youngsters, the sisters often disagreed with the types of cases he was willing to take on and the types of people he was willing to defend (gang-rapists, assassins, Islamic terrorists), and often lived in fear for their own safety due to those choices. But with maturity comes the longer view, and now the Kunstler girls are able to appreciate more fully their father's unwavering belief that true justice can be achieved only when it applies to everyone equally - those we love and admire as well as those we hate and fear.

Kunstler was, of course, the civil rights attorney who became a household name when he served as lead counsel for the Chicago 7 in the late 1960s, an act for which he served several months in prison on charges of "contempt of court," a sentence that was later overturned. But it was this trial - and the obviously unjust way in which the defendants were treated (especially Bobby Seale) - that forever "radicalized" Kunstler, making him see the American legal system as a racist machine hell bent on discriminating against minorities and the poor and those who lacked favor in the eyes of society. After this crucial turning point, Kunstler dedicated his life and his career as a defense attorney to full-time anti-war and civil rights activism, which garnered him the near-constant attention of an ever-suspicious FBI. Kunstler was actively involved in trying to bring peaceful resolutions to the famous standoffs at Attica (where he clearly did not succeed) and Wounded Knee (where he did).

It was in the second half of his career, where, in his capacity as a criminal defense attorney for the city of New York, he began defending some pretty loathsome characters - he is even shown physically embracing John Gotti - that many of his former supporters, including his daughters, began to question his moral convictions. But Kunstler, who died in 1995, always maintained that every person accused of a crime was entitled to a vigorous defense, and it is this philosophy that ultimately won over many of his critics and even his daughters in the end.

A mixture of file footage and interviews with numerous people who both knew Kunstler personally or were deeply affected by his work, the documentary itself is fairly conventional in style and form, but its portrait of a man who insisted, often at great personal risk to himself and his family, that all people be given a fair trial - and of his daughters' growing understanding and eventual acceptance of what he was all about - makes it truly inspiring.

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