Emily and Sarah Kunstler’s documentary William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe (2009) belongs to a small category of contemporary documentary that can best be described as the My-Parent-Is-This-Famous-Person sub-genre. (Tell Them Who You Are (2005), Mark Wexler’s film about his father and cinematographer extraordinaire Haskell Wexler, is another example.)
What sets the Kunstler sisters’ film apart is its lack of reliance on their proximity to the subject. The silver lining of their father having passed away in 1995 is that it allows them to maintain something of a critical distance while still making a technically “personal” film (their voiceovers always refer to Kunstler as “dad”).
Disturbing the Universe ends up being more a professional biography than a personal one. A staunch leftist, Kunstler was even more passionate than he was good—and he was very good. The moments at which the sisters inject their daughterly perspective are nicely modest and only peppered in. Kunstler’s career of high-profile cases and unpopular defendants gets well told.