Fiche Film
LONG Métrage | 2009
William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe
Pays concerné : États-Unis
Durée : 85 minutes
Genre : portrait
Type : documentaire


Dans William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe, les réalisatrices Emily and Sarah Kunstler explorent la vie de leur père, avocat défenseur des droits de l’homme. Dans les années 60 et 70, Kunstler s’est battu pour les droits de l’homme avec Martin Luther King Jr., et a représenté les militants qui protestaient contre la guerre du Vietnam.

90 min | documentaire biopic | réalisé par Sarah Kunstler et Emily Kunstler |

Herman Badillo, Dennis Banks, Harry Belafonte, Clyde Bellecourt, Father Daniel Berrigan, Phil Donahue, Jimmy Breslin, Alan Dershowitz, Elizabeth Fink, Jean Fritz, Karin Kunstler Goldman, Tom Hayden, Bruce Jackson, Gregory Joey Johnson, Ron Kuby, Margaret Ratner Kunstler, William Kunstler, Nancy Kurshan, Gerald Lefcourt, Rev. Vernon C. Mason, Bill Means, Michael Ratner, Paul Red, Yusef Salaam, Bobby Seale, Barry Slotnick, Michael Smith, Lynne Stewart, M. Wesley Swearingen, Madonna Thunderhawk, Len Weinglass


In William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe, filmmakers Emily and Sarah Kunstler explore the life of their father, the late radical civil rights lawyer. In the 1960s and 70s, Kunstler fought for civil rights with Martin Luther King Jr., and represented activists protesting the Vietnam War. When inmates took over Attica prison, or Native Americans 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 while they were growing up, Kunstler represented some of the most unpopular members of society: people accused of rape, terrorism, organized crime and cop killing. Who was William Kunstler? Why did he choose the life he did? And where do his daughters fit into that choice?

documentary | directed by Sarah Kunstler and Emily Kunstler |

technical: 85 Mins | 4:3 | Stereo | Color | Not Rated

Producers: Emily Kunstler, Sarah Kunstler, Jesse Moss, Susan Korda

Herman Badillo, Dennis Banks, Harry Belafonte, Clyde Bellecourt, Father Daniel Berrigan, Phil Donahue, Jimmy Breslin, Alan Dershowitz, Elizabeth Fink, Jean Fritz, Karin Kunstler Goldman, Tom Hayden, Bruce Jackson, Gregory Joey Johnson, Ron Kuby, Margaret Ratner Kunstler, William Kunstler, Nancy Kurshan, Gerald Lefcourt, Rev. Vernon C. Mason, Bill Means, Michael Ratner, Paul Red, Yusef Salaam, Bobby Seale, Barry Slotnick, Michael Smith, Lynne Stewart, M. Wesley Swearingen, Madonna Thunderhawk, Len Weinglass

Principal Characters

Dennis Banks – is a founder of the American Indian Movement. A Native American leader, teacher, lecturer, activist and author, Mr. Banks is an Anishinaabe born on Leech Lake Indian Reservation in northern Minnesota. His Ojibwe name is Nowa Cumig « In the Center of the Ground. » He was one of William Kunstler’s clients, along with Russell Means, in the Wounded Knee Leadership Trial.
« Holy crap, Bill Kunstler’s at the gate. »

Clyde Bellecourt – is a Native American civil rights organizer and a founder of the American Indian Movement. He was born on the White Earth Indian Reservation in northern Minnesota. His Ojibwe name, Nee-gon-we-way-we-dun, means « Thunder Before the Storm. »
« [Bill told me] it’s not the Indian people who are on trial, it’s the government that’s on trial. They’re the ones that we’re after, they’re the ones who are going to be found guilty, and he prophesized that. »

Father Daniel Berrigan – is a poet, peace activist, and Roman Catholic priest. He and his brother Philip made the FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list for committing acts of vandalism, including destroying government property. Kunstler defended the Berrigans for burning draft files in Catonsville, Maryland, as part of the Catonsville 9.
« So the night before, we had a kind of liturgical service, we concocted napalm,… and we prayed that this might be an instrument of peace-making, as it was the instrument certainly of us taking our lives in our hands. »
« [Bill understood] that the law of the land is not one with justice and can very easily be its mortal opponent. The only absolute is justice, not the law. »

Elizabeth Fink – is a civil rights and criminal defense attorney and a friend of Kunstler. For 26 years, she was lead counsel on a class action civil rights lawsuit brought by the Attica prisoners and finally settled in 2000.
At Attica, « [Bill] made a big mistake. He didn’t go to them and say `Listen, there are 500, 600 law enforcement out there. They’re all being lied to. They all have this unbelievable amount of weapons. And if you don’t agree, they’re going to blow you away.’ No one told them that. »

Jean Fritz – was one of four jurors on the Chicago Conspiracy Trial who held out for acquittal on all charges. The jury eventually reached a compromise verdict, acquitting all defendants of conspiracy, and convicting five of crossing state lines to incite a riot. At the time of the trial, Fritz, a Republican, was 51 years old and ran an auto supply store with her husband.
About Bobby Seale: « It was absolutely sickening. You just felt that the world was coming to an end that you were actually seeing this in the United States of America. Somebody tied up like he was. »

Karin Kunstler Goldman – is the eldest of Kunstler’s four daughters. She participated in Mississippi Freedom Summer in 1964 and was a Peace Corps volunteer in Senegal from 1966 to 1968. She received a law degree from Rutgers University in 1973. Since 1982, she has been an assistant attorney general in the Charities Fraud Division of the New York State Attorney General’s office.
Before he went South, « Bill and Michael, his brother, had a fairly ordinary general practice. They did some matrimonial law, they did contracts law, they did house closings, whatever they could do to put bread and butter on the table. »

Gregory « Joey » Johnson – is an activist. During the 1984 Republican National Convention in Dallas, Texas, he demonstrated against the policies of the Reagan administration, was arrested for burning an American flag, and charged with destroying a venerated object. Kunstler represented him before the United States Supreme Court, which ruled that flag burning was protected speech under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. (Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 (1989).
« When we came down, out of the Supreme Court, we all had our fists in the air including Bill. He had that kind of defiance. »

Emily Kunstler – is the daughter of William Kunstler and a director and producer of William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe. She is also the film’s editor and narrator. She is 30 years old.
« We may never agree with everything our father did, but dad’s story taught us that the best thing a person can do is stand up to injustice, even when no one agrees with you, even if you have to risk everything to do it. »

Sarah Kunstler – is the daughter of William Kunstler and a director and producer of William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe. She is also the film’s writer. She is 32 years old.
« Emily and I wanted to bring our father’s story, and the battles he was a part of, out of the past, and to remind audiences that freedom is a constant struggle, and that the people who fight for it are heroes, not because they are without flaws, but because they see injustice and find the courage to act. »

William Kunstler – (July 7, 1919 – September 4, 1995) was a radical lawyer and civil rights activist. He represented Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights activists in the South during the early 1960s, but gained national renown for defending the Chicago Seven (originally Chicago Eight) against charges of conspiring to incite riots in Chicago during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. He represented Black Power activists, inmates in the 1971 Attica rebellion, Native American activists charged after the 1973 standoff at Wounded Knee, Puerto Rican Nationalists, and others. In the 1980s and’90s, after he represented accused rapists, terrorists, murderers, and members of organized crime, he was dubbed « the most hated lawyer in America. » He is the father of Emily Kunstler and Sarah Kunstler.
« Every person’s life has a moment when you are thinking of doing something that will jeopardize yourself…. I hope many of you will dare when the time comes. »

Margaret Ratner Kunstler – is a civil rights attorney, Emily and Sarah’s mother, and William Kunstler’s widow. She met her husband in 1968 during the Columbia University Student Protests, where she coordinated the defense of those arrested through the Mass Defense Office of the National Lawyers Guild. She later worked at the New York City-based Center for Constitutional Rights as an attorney and educational director. She is now president of the William Moses Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice, a foundation established in 1995 in the memory of her late husband to combat racism in the criminal justice system.
« I didn’t want him to represent Nosair [accused of killing Rabbi Meier Kahane]. I thought it put you two in danger. Obviously he didn’t listen to me. »

William Means – (Oglala Lakota) a Vietnam combat and Wounded Knee (1973) veteran, is a founder of the International Indian Treaty Council and co-founder of the U.N. Working Group on Indigenous Populations. He is an expert on U.S. and Indian Treaty relations. Russell Means is his brother.
About the military response at Wounded Knee: « I thought, man, I survived Vietnam and now I’m going to get killed on my own land, my own reservation. »

Michael Ratner – is a civil rights attorney and was a friend of Kunstler. President of the Center for Constitutional Rights, he is intensely involved in challenging constitutional violations in the wake of 9/11. He has litigated numerous cases in the United States against major international human rights abusers, and has brought challenges to U.S. war making in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Grenada, Iraq, and Yugoslavia.
« [Bill] stood for radical politics and now he was representing [Nosair], someone whose values were, as far as we knew, anathema to most of us. The guy had powder burns, supposedly, on his hands, and Bill got that guy acquitted, so he was obviously a pretty incredible lawyer. But people were pretty angry about what happened with Nosair »

Paul Redd – is a civil rights activist and was Kunstler’s first civil rights client. In the late 1950s, when he headed the local NAACP in Westchester, Redd alleged discrimination after he was unable to rent an apartment. Kunstler, who lived in the same neighborhood, helped Redd and his wife, Orial, win their case-and the apartment they still live in. Redd organized demonstrations against housing discrimination.
« He was a friend of mine…. It made no difference to him what color you were. If he felt you were being discriminated against and he could help out, he did. »

Yusef Salaam – was arrested when he was 15, along with four other teenagers and charged with beating and raping a 28-year-old female jogger in New York’s Central Park. He spent six and a half years in prison, and was exonerated in 2002 when the real perpetrator came forward and confessed to the crime. Kunstler did not represent Mr. Salaam at trial, but spent two years appealing his case until he finally lost before New York’s highest court.
« People wanted us to be hanging from the trees by the end of the day. »

Bobby Seale – is an American civil rights activist who co-founded the Black Panther Party along with Dr. Huey P. Newton. Seale was one of the original Chicago Eight defendants charged with conspiracy and inciting to riot, in the wake of the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. After his lawyer became ill and unavailable for trial, Seale demanded the right to defend himself. To silence Seale’s « outbursts, » Judge Julius Hoffman ordered him bound and gagged in the courtroom. Hoffman sentenced Seale to four years imprisonment for contempt, and eventually severed him from the case. William Kunstler and Len Weinglass represented what became known as the Chicago Seven.
To the Chicago 8 judge: « You’re a racist, a fascist, and a bigot! »

Michael Smith – was a 21-year-old New York State Corrections Officer at Attica Prison during the 1971 riot. Inmates held him hostage for the duration of the four-day siege, which ended with the bloody retaking of the facility, by force. Authorities shot him five times when they opened fire on the siege.
« How many lives did this change forever in ways that future generation will never even realize? »

Madonna Thunderhawk – A Two Kettle Lakota, is a veteran of key modern Native American struggles, from the occupation of Alcatraz to the siege of Wounded Knee. An original member of the American Indian Movement (AIM), she is a long-time community organizer.
« When you’re fighting for your land and your identity, you don’t know what you can do when your back is against the wall. »

Len Weinglass – is a civil rights attorney and was co-counsel with William Kunstler on the Chicago Conspiracy Trial. For the past four decades, he has been involved in some of our nation’s most highprofile civil rights cases. He represented Jane Fonda in her suit against Richard Nixon; Barry Commoner in his battle to enter a presidential primary; African American radical Angela Davis; Bill and Emily Harris, charged with kidnaping Patty Hearst; death row inmate Mumia Abu Jamal; former Weatherman Kathy Boudin; and five Cubans charged in Miami with espionage.
« [Bill was sentenced to] 40 plus months in prison on contempt charges – the longest contempts ever awarded to an American lawyer in history. »

Main Credits
An Off Center Media Production
In association with Chicken & Egg Pictures

Produced and Directed By
Emily Kunstler and Sarah Kunstler

Jesse Moss

Susan Korda

Executive Producer
Vanessa Wanger

Director of Photography
Brett Wiley

Second Director of Photography
Martina Radwan

Shahzad Ismaily

Emily Hubley
Jeremiah Dickey

Emily Kunstler

Sarah Kunstler

Associate Producers
Tracy Bunting
Andrew Lutsky

Consulting Producers
Margaret Ratner Kunstler
Matt Ruskin
Socheata Poeuv
Charles Vogl

Consulting Producer for Chicken & Egg
Judith Helfand

Executive Producer for ITVS
Sally Jo Fifer

William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe is a co-production of Disturbing the Universe LLC and the Independent Television Service (ITVS), with funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).

Copyright © 2009 Disturbing the Universe LLC, all rights reserved.