Mountainfilm in Telluride: “Disturbing the Universe”

Mountainfilm in Telluride: “Disturbing the Universe”

[click “Play” to hear Emily Kunstler’s conversation with Susan]

DTU_Poster_Final_Small “Disturbing the Universe” might be a catchall phrase to describe Mountainfilm in Telluride, an annual gathering of a tribe of people who rarely pull their punches. The regulars who attend year after year – 2010 is the 32nd annual get-together – believe the world can be changed for the better through the metastasis of ideas and images, one person, one mountain, one book, one photograph, one symposium, one film at a time.

Like many Mountainfilm regulars and guests, radical civil rights attorney William Kunstler was a man who thrived on controversy and never pulled his punches, his wild hair was always on fire about something. For better or for worse, no one can deny the man advocated change. William Kunstler’s professed avatar was Michelangelo’s David, the man who fought the giant Goliath. During the second half of the 20th century, Kunstler was one of the most admired lawyers in America ( largely by progressives, though not all civil rights lawyers) – and one of the most reviled (by the radical right, who wanted him disbarred).

In “William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe,” Kunstler’s daughters, filmmakers Emily and Sarah, explore the controversial life of their dad. Their film is featured at Mountainfilm in Telluride, with screenings Saturday evening at The Masons and Sunday evening at the five-star Wilkinson Public Library.

In the 1960s, William Kunstler specialized in defending clients who ran afoul of the law on civil rights and freedom of speech issues, speaking out on behalf of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Lenny Bruce, members of the Black Panthers Party, Native American activists (at Wounded Knee), and prisoners’ rights groups (Attica Prison rioters) but not the right-wing Minutemen. Kunstler famously said: “I only defend those whose goals I share. I am not a lawyer for hire. I only defend those I love.” But in his later years, William Kunstler defended pariahs no else would touch. Did he love the drug dealers, accused rapists, organized crime figures (he publicly kissed a Mafia boss, client John Gotti) and suspected terrorists ( the one who bombed the World Trade Center)? Or did he simply like to see his face in print. His daughters certainly wanted to know.

Emily and Sarah Kunstler began asked their famous dad about his career  and what he stood for, armed with a home movie camera as they fired away with their questions. That footage, along with vintage newsreels and interviews with Kunstler friends, foes, and clients became their documentary – “William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe,” an affectionate biographical portrait of the man and his legacy.

Those interested in a controversial figure, and a refresher course on the history of American left-wing politics of the 1960s and 1970s, which, ironically, set the stage for the Tea Baggers of today, should not miss this one.

Mountainfilm film selections at:

Full details of Mountainfilm’s 32nd annual festival schedule:

To learn more about the film, click the “play” button and listen to Emily Kunstler’s podcast.

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