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The Lens: 2009 Film Festival - Monday, Nov. 16

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 14, 2009 - William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe, Directed by Emily and Sarah Kunstler, William Kunstler first gained national attention as part of the defense team in the circus that was the Chicago Seven (originally Eight) trial. The 50-year-old attorney was a veteran of civil rights cases and an outspoken activist of free speech and protest, but, as his daughters say in their film about Kunstler's life, the Chicago experience radicalized him.

“William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe” (the title is an emphatic “yes” to a question posed in Eliot's “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”) is the latest contribution to a growing number of documentary films in which the lives of famous figures are dissected by family members. The Kunstler sisters, in the course of presenting the man they knew (via home movies, family interviews and their own voices) as well as the notorious public figure, create an honest and ultimately respectful portrait of a complex and heroic man, a courageous if occasionally impulsive agitator who fought for freedom and justice for most of his 76 years. It's a fine introduction to their father's life, made with equal portions of insight and love.

Emily Kunstler will be in attendance

Waiting for Hockney

Directed by Julie Checkoway

The title of Julie Checkoway's film refers to a quest for validation made by her subject, a Baltimore-based artist named Billy Pappas. At the time of the trip, Pappas has spent 10 years working on a single picture, a highly detailed – that's an understatement – pencil drawing of Marilyn Monroe. For reasons not sufficiently explained in the film, Pappas and his mentors – one of his former high school teachers and his sponsor, an architect named Larry Link who calls himself “Dr. Lifestyle” - reached the conclusion that the drawing must somehow received the imprimatur of British artist David Hockney.

“Waiting for Hockney” is an absorbing but ultimately irritating account of Pappas' obsessive work, filmed over two years. This is a portrait of an artist who could charitably called “eccentric” at the least, and while Checkoway gives an indulgent amount of screen time to Pappas, his family and associates discussing his work, the film shies away from all but the most superficial discussion of his art, his inspiration or his ideas.

Also on the program is Laurie Hill's terrific short film “Photograph of Jesus.” If you can't attend the festival screening, you can watch it here (http://vimeo.com/2362113 ).

Robert Hunt is a long-time critical observer of film. The Lens is the blog of Cinema St. Louis hosted by the Beacon.