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Ask the Filmmakers

Filmmakers Emily and Sarah Kunstler answered questions during a live chat with viewers. Read the transcript of the chat to find out their thoughts on the Central Park Jogger case, what their favorite things to do with their father were and much more.



POV: Thanks for joining us for this live chat! Filmmakers Emily and Sarah Kunster will be here at 11:30PM EST to answer your questions!

POV: Please note that your questions are being held in a queue, and will be published by the moderator as the session goes on!

Comment From Guest
Your dad was the first person that made me understand what it was to be a lawyer and later in life having lived in the same neighborhood came to see him on a regular basis along with Ron Kuby. He defended a guy I knew from when I was a Dj at a club inj NYC called Red Zone and always thought he was a stand up guy no matter what the side you were on. I always admired his hutzpa and confidence and as a similar personality type wonder what was his favorite food/dessert to eat?

Comment From Michelle Materre
Hi Emily and Sarah - Congratulations on completing a compelling, engaging and authentic documentary film! Having seen early versions, you've done an amazing job and I'm certain that your Dad is looking upon you with pride!

Comment From Gil Rubin
Thank you for making this moving testimonial to your father. I always loved and respected him. I met him through my brother (Jerry Rubin). My eyes are filled with (happy) tears. Thanks Emily and Sarah

Emily and Sarah Kunstler: Hi. Emily and Sarah here. His favorite desserts were oreo cookies and enteman's chocolate donuts.

POV: Hi everyone. Thanks so much for being here to chat with "William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe filmmakers Emily and Sarah Kunstler.

POV: Again, a reminder: Emily and Sarah might not have time to answer all your questions. Please note that your questions are being held in a queue, and will be published by the moderator as the session goes on! Let's get started!

Comment From Caroline
I would imagine it's a particular challenge making a documentary about one's own family. I know my mother would not let me divulge certain family secrets if I attempted it. Did you have to cut anything out because your mother or another family member asked for privacy on a particular issue? (I realize you probably can't say what it was, but just curious if you ran into that.)

Emily and Sarah Kunstler: We didn't make any edits to protect anyone's privacy. Some people didn't want to be interviewed, but nobody asked us to make edits.

Comment From Guest
how did you feel when the central park joggers were aquited? Did you have any regret for doubting yhour dad?

Emily and Sarah Kunstler: Emily: We felt great. We missed him and wished he'd lived to see it. It taught us a lot about rushing to judgment and making a decision based on fear.

Comment From Christopher
You both interviewed many influential activists from a period of American history that, while remarkably similar to America today, was very different in that the activist community today seems to be less extreme, or perhaps more focused on the group than on the individual. How do you both feel about the state of activism in America today? Do we simply live in a different environment or do you feel the issues have changed?

Emily and Sarah Kunstler: Sarah: We've spent a lot of time thinking about this. When you have parents who were active in the 60s and 70s, you hear a lot about the glory days of their activism and wonder why things are different today. I think it's difficult to articulate one reason, but I don't think people take to the streets the way they used to. But I'm hopeful - we both are - for a new generation of changemakers who will innovate and do it their own way.

Comment From Dawn
Sarah, so cool you became a lawyer. How are you carrying out his legacy now?

Comment From Dawn
Christopher, check out the cases of Mumia Abu Jamal, the Clark Sisters or the San Francisco 8. A lot of struggle happening now. Be part of the solution.

Comment From karen stone
congratulations, great work!

Emily and Sarah Kunstler: Sarah: I am a criminal defense lawyer in New York. My clients are mostly indigent and I work under the mentorship of Elizabeth Fink, the Attica lawyer in our film. I walk into courtrooms and try to channel his strength.

Comment From Ben
I am not sure you can speak to this but, how did your father feel if he defended a man/woman who was obviously guilty or was proven justly to be guilty

Emily and Sarah Kunstler: Emily: It wasn't about guilt or innocence for our dad. The more reviled a defendant was, the more likely their rights would be violated in a courtroom. He saw himself as standing between accused individuals and the crushing weight of government power. He believed that when one person's rights are violated, even a guilty person, all of our rights are compromised.

Comment From Catherine P.
I thought this was a fantastic and moving film and it stands on its own as an inspiration to people to act out in response to injustice but it is also incredibly personal. What do you have planned for future films? Will they have a personal element as well? And will you continue to work together?

Emily and Sarah Kunstler: Sarah: We've been making films together for 10 years and will continue to make films together. We've been co-conspirators since birth, and I can't imagine a better collaborator. We are looking forward to making a film that ISN'T about our family and several projects in the works.

Comment From Taylor
I wanted to thank you for making this documentary. As a young attorney (admitted May 2009), your father is an inspiration to all in the legal field. It was great to hear a bit more detail about the man. What did your father do during his free time? Did he have any hobbies?

Emily and Sarah Kunstler: Emily: Our father worked most of the time. Most of my early memories of him are of him working - even sitting by the swimming pool with a legal pad. But he loved baseball (The Mets), opera (Verdi), crossword puzzles, and writing sonnets in iambic pentameter.

Comment From JW
Your father fought govt repression -- from local police to the highest federal levels -- do you think the same level of govt repression, suppression and oppression exists today? How do you see it as different? What's your next film?

Comment From Leesa Dean
Sarah and Emily, what a wonderful job you did. The film was moving and a great portrait. Thanks.

Emily and Sarah Kunstler: Sarah: As our dad would say, power always corrupts and all governments are repressive. He believed that history was cyclical, and that there were more repressive periods and less repressive periods, but that it was our responsibility as citizens to stay vigilant and hold our government accountable at all times. We are working on a couple projects - one about the son of a former client of our dad's, and another on how as a country we don't really talk about race and racism.

Comment From Guest
If your father was alive now, which group of people would he consider as being institutionally subjected to injustices both by law and society?

Emily and Sarah Kunstler: Emily: I am sure he would say that non-citizens, Arab Muslims, and people accused of terror crimes are among today's targets.

Comment From B
Conceivably during your father's long career he got a guilty person out of jail time, how would he feel about such a situation? Would he feel remorse for the victim or victims or would he feel that such as situation was actually injustice in its own right?

Comment From Guest
Be brave. I did not always like defense of admitted perpetrators, but I agreed with your father about defending them. With so much misconduct, I came to agree with him about the invalidity of confessions, forced or otherwise, especially in the context of well off people who never had to face it or corporations insulated by lawyer teams. I hope this film is TAUGHT everywhere in this country and elsewhere where people struggle for better government.

Emily and Sarah Kunstler: Sarah: We always wondered about that. When we were kids, we wanted all his clients to be innocent. We never really got to have that conversation with him, but as a criminal defense lawyer myself, I think he thought that everyone was better than the worst thing they had ever done, and believed in redemption and forgiveness. I also think he saw the criminal justice system as so broken that he didn't believe it was the right mechanism to dispense justice anyway.

Comment From Guest
How long did it take you to make the movie? Did you work on it full time?

Comment From Greg Mitchell
I was Bill's editor at Crawdaddy on many articles in 1970s, also friend, and knew you two as babies.... great film, thanks for it.

Comment From David Arnow
Even if the Central Park accused had really been guilty your father was absolutely right to defend them. Who the hell wants to live in a country where someone can be jailed with no defense? Same goes for Gotti and any other S.O.B. he defended.

Emily and Sarah Kunstler: Emily: It took us four years. Only a year and a half was full time. We worked when we had money, and worked to raise money when we didn't.

Comment From Brian
Your father seemed to really enjoy public political organizing, people power. How do you think he would've felt about the internet as an organizing force? I think it has the power to organize more people but perhaps without the resonance of people literally gathering together for a cause.

Comment From Dawn
Amen! I hope this film is taught everywhere. Third time I've seen it and I always learn a lot more. Thank you, sisters.

Emily and Sarah Kunstler: Sarah: He was a hunt and peck typist who never had an email account. That said, I think he would have loved it. He really believed in the power of the people to organize and would have been thrilled that the internet enables people to connect on a wide scale. And he would have loved to sign up for google alerts to follow his hits in the media.

Comment From Juliann
Do you feel like the process of creating this film about your father has helped you reconcile your "issues," has helped you define your feelings about your father? Or do you feel like your relationship with him continues to evolve? Are there questions you still have for him that this process has left unanswered?

Comment From Mike
Sarah I missed teaching you, but Emily you were my 5th grade student back in the day on Bleecker Street and you were wonderful, then and now. I was your Black science teacher and your father touched my life , not only through you, but also during the black takeover of Hamilton Hall in 1968. Also, standing up for one's belief put me into a battle with your old school over the existence of the high school ('91-'94) ... and race was an underlying issue in that battle. We won that battle, and the fierceness of your father's battles gave us all courage to push to victory. Issues of racial inequity permeate even the most liberal institutions in America, even now. From Chicago, to Attica, to Wounded Knee, to Central Park, to a hundred of other stops along the way, your chronicle beautifully captures this American struggle, and does honor to your father in how he raised his daughters with love ... and respect for all people.

Comment From Dan Goldman
This is his grandson here. Coincidentally, I work for WNET.ORG. I think Gramps would have been thorougly amazed by the Internet, but not likely to have been able to harness it.

Emily and Sarah Kunstler: Emily: I feel closer to him today than ever. I haven't resolved all of my issues with him, but making this film has made me realize that I don't have to. I think my relationship with him will continue to evolve. As I get older, and have more life experience, how I think and feel about him continues to change.

Comment From Andres Delgado
Thank you for you film about your father. You should be very proud. I had a similar experience in learning about my father late in life. He fought Franco in Spain during the Spanish Civlil and learning about what he did was a revelation. I am sure you had the same experience. I grew up during the 60's 70's I knew and followed your fathers' life, the ups and downs. Here's my question for you: If you have children how will you preserve and pass his story on to them?

Emily and Sarah Kunstler: Emily: Mike! You made me want to become a scientist! But I became a filmmaker instead. Of course I remember you. Our classroom was in the basement down the hallway from Felicia's kitchen,

Comment From Dan Goldman
But then again, he never gave up, so maybe he would have pushed on via kunstler.org

Emily and Sarah Kunstler: Sarah: This film is our way of preserving his story to pass on to them. I have a 15 month old son, and Emily is actually expecting her first child.

Emily and Sarah Kunstler: Hi Dan!

Comment From Lee
o you think that toward the end of his career your Father lsost his way and was more interested in the fame than than in the person he was defending?

Comment From jre
He had an incredible voice, it was so pure and honest. It was amazing to see someone so brightly shine, against the lowest forces of mans nature. Something more rare and needed then ever. A beautiful tribute and story that needs to be heard. You both have a gift, hope you will continue with it.

Emily and Sarah Kunstler: Emily: No. I don't think that. Towards the end of his life, in the absence of a larger political movement, he began to think that the defense of the most hated was the forefront of civil rights work. He was always interested in his own fame, but he used that fame in large part to shed light on clients and causes which would have gone unnoticed otherwise. Fame was never an end in itself.

Comment From Dawn
What was your favorite things to do with your dad?

POV: Emily and Sarah have time to answer 2 more questions. We apologize if we didn't get to your questions!

Emily and Sarah Kunstler: Sarah: Play catch on our block, go to ball games, have lunch at the Waverly Restaurant, hang out in his office using up office supplies.

Comment From Guest
Did your father have strong views about minimum sentencing? What current criminal laws would you most like to see reversed/changed?

Comment From Guest
I loved the way you worked in your doubts about your father's work...at first I was afraid it was a hatchet job ;) but it gave they story depth...and your own honesty about your feelings of the Central Park jogger case was courageous.

Emily and Sarah Kunstler: Emily: We didn't talk about this, but I think he did. I am sure he was outraged by three strikes laws or mandatory minimums for first time offenders. Ultimately, he was anti-prison, so he would have probably loved to abolish them and find a better way to deal with crime in society. He hated the death penalty and fought against it always.

Comment From Sheila
I was curious to know more about how your father developed his remarkable ability to stand up for what's right. In the movie you say that you don't know how he came to his hatred of racism, but I'd be curious to know what your thoughts are on that?

Comment From LEE
Thanks, POV. Great. Bless the Kunstler kids!

Comment From Gary
36 police to arrest 1 black man. Your dad was right to suspect the police acted wrongly. God bless you and your families. I will buy this film to support his legacy and your efforts.....DO MORE!!!

Emily and Sarah Kunstler: Sarah: I think being Jewish growing up in the 1920s and 30s was definitely part of it. He was born in 1919 - different times.

POV: One last question for Emily and Sarah...

Comment From Terrence
Do you find yourselves in possession of that same perpetual fire embodied by your father in regards to your causes or careers.

Comment From Greg B.
Thank you, sisters. Finally some positive acknowledgment of contributions from Bill and the left. The memorial at Attica is emblematic of how the left and the left out are treated by the established powers in this country. Your film is a palliative for all those who've struggled and sacrificed for justice, without regard for personal safety, let alone gain. This morning I was thinking about how the town of Cortlandt, where the Robeson riots took place, blocked the placing of a plaque memorializing the event. There is an alternative history in this country, so rarely acknowledged. Historians like Howard Zinn and film makers like you are the rare exceptions that bring that history to the light. It is such a pleasure. Thank you for giving us your David and Goliath moment. Keep slinging them out! (A special hello to Emily. Sorry you weren't available for our recent, private screening.)

Emily and Sarah Kunstler: In our house, courage was our religion. We were taught that it was our responsibility to take a stand for what we believe in. We definitely feel that fire. It is our reason for being - why get up in the morning.

POV: And that’s a wrap! Thank you, everyone, for participating!

Emily and Sarah Kunstler: Thank you everyone. Thanks for watching and participating. Keep in touch with us and th efilm and spread the word - disturbingtheuniverse.com.

POV: And thank you Emily and Sarah for making a fantastic film, and for answering our questions!

Comment From Tamara Miles Gantt
Thanks so much for the discussion. I enjoyed it. Good night!

Comment From Guest
Wish you the best and hope you can carry on his legacy.

Comment From Dawn
Thank you, POV. Thank you Emily & Sarah for sharing about your dad, Bill--a huge blessing to many of us.

Emily and Sarah Kunstler: All power to the people!

Comment From Andres Delgado
thank you Emily and Sarah and POV

Comment From Dawn
Keep on slingin'!

POV: To find out more about the cases in the film, hear audio of Kunstler’s speeches and interviews, view a multi-media timeline of his career and more, visit http://www.pbs.org/pov/disturbingtheuniverse/

POV: The transcript of this chat will be available right here on the POV website.

POV: Thanks again for watching POV and chatting with us. Have a good night, everyone!

Comment From Taylor
Thank You

Comment From Andres Delgado
Yes, power to the people

Comment From Leesa Dean
Thanks again you guys!

Comment From Guest
thank you for such a great documentary. it was so moving.





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While our father lived in front of news cameras, we found our place behind the lens. We hope our film communicates that the world we inherit is better because someone struggled for justice, and that those changes will survive only if we continue to fight.”

— Sarah Kunstler, Filmmaker

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