Tilda Swinton and Thomas Jay Ryan in Strange Culture (2007) directed by Lynn Hershman Leeson. Courtesy the artist

Tilda Swinton and Thomas Jay Ryan in Strange Culture (2007) directed by Lynn Hershman Leeson. Courtesy the artist

McEvoy Arts at Home

Strange Culture

Lynn Hershman Leeson’s genre-bending “documentary” starring Tilda Swinton forecasts uncanny similarities to society’s current moment. 

“Like the time when Strange Culture was made, we are in a time in which paranoia, fictitious information and what is called national security have risked the lives of this country’s population and squandered tens of thousands of lives in the process. Information suppression and an invisible virus are shifting the world as we know it. Perhaps this moment is a eulogy to history. The virus has caused us to reverse the direction of who we were. Inadvertently, quarantines have bred virtual connectivity and opened a portal through which we can enter with minimal paraphernalia, a pathway through which we can choose to leave behind past horrors of inhumanity and instead enter an expanded platform where links and surveillance serve as the ground force army, fighting for a different future.”

— Lynn Hershman Leeson

Strange Culture tells the story of how one man’s personal tragedy turns into persecution by a paranoid and overzealous government. In 2004, Steve Kurtz (Thomas Jay Ryan), an Associate Professor of Art at the State University of New York, Buffalo, was preparing an exhibition on genetically modified food for the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art when his wife, Hope (Tilda Swinton), died in her sleep of heart failure. But when paramedics noticed scientific paraphernalia in the home, they alerted the F.B.I.; within hours Mr. Kurtz found himself suspected of bioterrorism, his home quarantined, and his wife’s body removed for autopsy. Lynn Hershman Leeson bends the nonfiction form to her own unconventional will, resulting in a compelling collage of re-enactments, news clips, and interviews that illuminate not only the implications of corporate meddling in the food chain but the insidiousness of just how quickly civilian behavior can garner suspicion.

This online screening is part of the McEvoy Arts at Home initiative to continue celebrating Bay Area creative institutions and artists during the current public health crisis. It is co-produced with the Roxie Theater. Lynn Hershman Leeson is featured in the exhibition Orlando which explores the central themes of Virginia Woolf’s prescient 1928 novel: gender fluidity, limitlessness, and the deep perspective that is earned from a long life. It is guest curated by Tilda Swinton and organized by Aperture, New York. A screening of the artist’s films Conceiving Ada (2000) and Teknolust (2003) at McEvoy Arts has been postponed.


Lynn Hershman Leeson is an American artist and filmmaker whose work transgresses art, social commentary, technology, and media. Her work has been exhibited at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; The National Gallery of Canada Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Tate Modern, London; the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco; and The Zentrum fur Kunst und Medientechnologie, Germany. Her films have been exhibited at the Berlin Film Festival; Sundance Film Festival, Park City, Utah; and Toronto International Film Festival. Her work is held in the collections of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; The Hess Collection, Napa; the McEvoy Family Collection, San Francisco; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Arts; the Thoma Art Foundation, Santa Fe; the Tate Britain; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. She is the recipient of a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, Prix ars Electronica, and Siggraph Lifetime Achievement Award. She lives and works in San Francisco and New York.


Runtime: 75 minutes
Country: United States
Year: 2007
Language: English
Director: Lynn Hershman Leeson
Producer: Lynn Hershman Leeson, Steven C. Beer
Writer: Lynn Hershman Leeson
Editor: Lynn Hershman Leeson
Cinematographer: Hiro Narita
Music: The Residents
Cast: Peter Coyote, Josh Kornbluth, Thomas Jay Ryan, Tilda Swinton
Print Source: Lynn Hershman Leeson