Our first screening in San Francisco was at the historic Castro Theater. I had never seen such a majestic movie palace. It was built in the age of silent pictures and is one of a very few of its kind remaining. The theater seats 1200 people and it was the largest audience we have screened in front of thus far. Watching a film in a theater setting is always such a special communal experience and in a theater this large, the audience’s energy was palpable.
After the screening at the Castro, Sarah and I participated in a panel called “Social Justice as a Jewish Value” with Elissa Barrett from the Progressive Jewish Alliance, Erika Katske from San Francisco Organizing Project, Lateefah Simon from the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, Andy Bichlbaum from the film The Yes Men Fix the World, and moderated by Benjamin Ross from the Jewish Funds for Justice.
This was our first opportunity to show the film at a Jewish festival. The festival and the panel got Sarah and I thinking in a whole different way about both our heritage and the meaning of our film. We were raised in a secular home – neither of our parents believed in organized religion. When we were first invited to participate on the panel, we worried that we weren’t Jewish enough.
Our parents taught us to be anti-racist with a commitment to social justice. In preparing for the panel, Sarah and I spent a lot of time discussing this commitment as a historically Jewish value. While Bill was not embraced by the Jewish community, particularly in his later years, his life’s work was clearly influenced by the prophetic Jewish tradition — an effort to effect social change to conform to God’s desired standards. After the Castro screening and panel, an audience member approached us and told us that he believed that our dad’s life embodied “tikkun olam,” a Hebrew phrase that means “repairing the world.” Sarah and I like the idea that someone can disturb the universe and work to change the world at the same time.
Our second screening was in Berkeley at the Berkeley Rep. We were joined by Black Panther founder Bobby Seale, who was the eighth defendant in the Chicago Conspiracy Trial, and Joey Johnson, our father’s client for the Supreme Court flag burning trial (Joey was also present at the Castro screening). When they kicked us out of the theater to start the next film, the Q & A spilled into the courtyard and the dialogue continued. In attendance at this screening were radical lawyers Bob Blum and Nancy Hormachea and Yippie activist Judy Gumbo Albert.
San Francisco is like a second home for us. In addition to seeing many old friends, we had a terrific time staying at the home of Stephanie Tang and Joey Johnson. We also got to spend a little time at the family home of our Associate Producer, Tracy Bunting. Sue and Denny Bunting hosted a terrific BBQ on our first night in town. Randy Credico, the director of the William Moses Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice, also joined us in Berkeley for our second screening.
Thank you to everyone who made our trip to San Francisco so special and comfortable. We are thrilled that the film will come back to the area (both San Francisco and Berkeley) for its theatrical release in the second half of November. We will send out all of the screening details as soon as they are finalized.
Sarah and her husband Jesse Ferguson, and their beautiful son William Atticus Ferguson Kunstler, headed back to New York after our screening at the Castro Theater and Tracy Bunting and I went on to Michael Moore’s film festival in Traverse City Michigan. We were met there by Yusef Salaam, the exonerated Central Park Jogger defendant.
The Traverse City Film Festival assigns a local resident volunteer to each film, and we were very lucky to be assigned to the care of Karla Herbold. From the time Karla came to get us at the airport we knew we were in good hands.
I was a little intimidated when invited to participate on a panel titled “40 Years of Documentary Filmmaking.” Although I really felt only comfortable talking about the last 4, and not the previous 36, I immediately said yes when I heard Michael Moore would be moderating. As it turned out, Mr. Moore was stuck in the editing room finishing his current film, something I and the other panelists could empathize with, but it was a wonderful opportunity to meet the amazing filmmakers I shared the stage with: Sam Thar Aung from Burma VJ, Joe Berlinger from Crude, Cathal Black from Learning Gravity, Kevin McMahon from Waterlife, Jim Czarnecki from Soundtrack for a Revolution, and Michelle Esrick from Saint Misbehavin’: The Wavy Gravy Movie. Tracy and I watched Sam Thar Aung’s courageous film about a band of Burmese activist journalists at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival this past spring and had the chance to see Jim Czarnecki’s and Michelle Esrick’s films while in Traverse City.
In Traverse City, I met an old friend of my dad’s – Dean Robb, a lawyer who fought shoulder to shoulder with him in Southern courtrooms in the 1960s. Dean told me about how my father and Arthur Kinoy had taught him and other young lawyers how to use a little-known Federal removal statute to get the cases of civil rights workers out of Southern courts and into federal ones. The local courts would hold protesters in jail for as long at they could in an effort to defuse the street movement. If the cases could be heard by federal judges, it was more likely that the activists would be released and could return to the streets sooner to continue the fight. Dean Robb and his family invited Tracy, Karla and me over for a terrific dinner at their home and we listened to old war stories all night long.
At the Q&A following our first Michigan screening, a man in the audience raised his hand and asked Yusef and me what we thought now that we were living in a “post-racial world.” This question goes to the heart of why Sarah and I chose to make William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe. Civil rights activists and lawyers like my father and Dean Robb didn’t win the battle – they fought as hard as they could for as long as they were able. Racism is still alive and well in the United States and it is our job to continue the fight. In my father’s last speeches, he would talk about how frustrated he was by how self-congratulatory we had become as a nation. The civil rights movement was beginning to be viewed as a great success of the past and not the continuing struggle that he saw. Bill would talk about how monuments were being erected and streets were being named after African-American leaders who’s names had formerly graced the top of the FBI’s “Most Wanted” list and at the same time affirmative action programs where being eliminated across the country and the number of people of color in prisons was increasing at an alarming rate.
Bill passed away before hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast but he would not have been surprised with the government’s galling response to the tragedy and inability to empathize with the many black New Orleanians whose lives were destroyed. As I looked around that theater in the lovely resort town of Traverse City Michigan, the only person of color I saw was Yusef Salaam who shared the stage with me. In answer to the audience member’s question, Yusef spoke about the recent racist treatment of Harvard professor Louis Gates. So do we live in “post-racial” world? Absolutely not. In the age of Obama it is all the more important to acknowledge racism and fight against it.
Stay tuned for an announcement about our upcoming theatrical release in November. We hope to come to a theater near you!