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New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers - NYSACDL

New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers - NYSACDL
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Justice Through the Arts Award to Sarah and Emily Kunstler

Filmmakers Emily Kunstler and Sarah Kunstler were honored at NYSACDL’s Annual Dinner with NYSACDL’s first Justice Through the Arts Award. In their documentary film, Disturbing the Universe, they explore the life of their famous father, the late radical civil rights lawyer who fought for civil rights with Martin Luther King Jr. and represented the famed “Chicago 8″ activists who protested the Vietnam War. When the inmates took over Attica prison, or when the American Indian Movement stood up to the federal government at Wounded Knee, they asked Kunstler to be their lawyer.  The film is an intimate, honest, and critical portrait of a journey driven by an unrelenting conscience and an uncompromising belief that justice in America was not blind, but delivered with eyes wide shut based on political, racial and economic prejudices.


The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recently announced that Disturbing the Universe is one of 15 films in the Documentary Feature category which will advance in the voting process for the 83rd Academy Awards®. On January 25, 2011, the final nominations will be announced.  The film’s title comes from T.S. Eliot’s poem, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. Many of William Kunstler’s speeches were entreaties to young people to have the courage to take action for change. He frequently spoke about the moment when a person must choose to stand up or to fade into a crowd and lead an unexceptional life. He also recited parts of Eliot’s poem, wherein Prufrock wonders if he “dare disturb the universe.”


Like their father, Emily and Sarah have not hesitated to disturb the universe.  They founded Off Center Media, a

Emily and Sarah Kunstler receive Justice Through the Arts Award

documentary production company devoted to exposing injustice in the hope of replacing it with actual justice.  In 1999, the Kunstlers produced Tulia, Texas: Scenes from the Drug War, a short video documentary that exposed a racist drug sting that led to the incarceration of over 10% of the African American population of a small Texas town. The testimony of Tom Coleman, a “gypsy cop” who made his living traveling through impoverished rural Texas offering to work undercover cheaply for underfunded police departments, constituted the only evidence against the defendants. During the roundup, no large sums of money, illegal drugs, drug paraphernalia, or illegal weapons were found. The Kunstler video inspired national media coverage of the drug sting and its aftermath, led to state and federal investigations of the drug sting, helped the defendants secure new representation, influenced the passage of several bills in the Texas Senate, and prompted the federal indictment of the undercover narcotics officer.   By 2004, most of the “Tulia 46” were freed and a $6,000,000 collective settlement was accomplished.




Emily and Sarah remain committed to investigating and sharing stories of racism and oppression in the hope that they can help effect a country and a world where there is really equal justice for all.  Off Center Media also produces low-cost videos for non-profit organizations and law firms for use as part of comprehensive advocacy efforts and education campaigns. Emily’s and Sarah’s videos have been broadcast on public access and satellite television, played in festivals across the country, streamed on the internet as part of advocacy campaigns, and distributed on a grassroots level for community education and organizing. Their clients include The Texas Defender Service, The Drug Policy Alliance, Sullivan & Cromwell LLP, The National Lawyer’s Guild, and The William Moses Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice.  Currently, Off Center is producing The Road to Justice, a documentary about Ryan Matthews, an African American man who was arrested at age 17, sentenced to death for a crime he did not commit, and exonerated 7 years later.


Emily graduated from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts with a BFA in Film and Video in 2000. Emily worked as a video producer for Democracy Now!, an independent national television and radio news program that broadcasts on the Pacifica Radio Network and on public access and satellite television. She was a studio art fellow with the Independent Study Program of the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2004. Emily was an associate producer on Alison Maclean’s “Persons of Interest” (Sundance, 2004).  At Off Center Media, Emily has produced, directed and edited a number of short documentaries, including the aforesaid “Tulia, Texas: Scenes from the Drug War” (2003), which won Best Documentary Short at the Woodstock Film Festival, and was instrumental in winning exoneration for 35 wrongfully-convicted people, and “Getting Through to the President” (2004), which has aired on the Sundance Channel, Current TV, and Channel Thirteen/WNET.


Sarah graduated from Yale University with a BA in Photography in 1998 and from Columbia Law School with a JD in 2004. She is currently a criminal defense attorney practicing in the Southern District of New York. She has produced and directed a number of short documentaries, including  ”Tulia, Texas: Scenes from the Drug War” (2003), and “Getting Through to the President” (2004).


For their relentless dedication to exposing injustice and pursuit of equal justice for all, the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is pleased to bestow its first Justice Through the Arts Award to Emily Kunstler and Sarah Kunstler.