Media Arts Program

Saturday, September 8, 2007


Lynn Hershman Leeson

Strange Culture

Presented at:
Market Arcade Film and Art Center

Special Benetfit Screening
at Market Arcade Film & Arts Center

STRANGE CULTURE (2007, 75 min.)
Benefit screening of Strange Culture, Lynn Hershman Leeson's critically-acclaimed new documentary about Buffalo artist Steven Kurtz: Saturday, September 8, 2007 at 7 p.m. at the Market Arcade Film & Arts Center. All proceeds will go to the Critical Art Ensemble Trial Fund. Professor Kurtz will be present to answer questions after the special Benefit Screening on September 8.

The Case
Strange Culture chronicles the surreal nightmare of Steven Kurtz, an art professor at SUNY Buffalo and a founding member, with his late wife, Hope, of the internationally exhibited art and theater collective Critical Art Ensemble (CAE). Over the past decade cultural institutions worldwide have hosted CAE's participatory theater projects that help the general public understand biotechnology and the many issues surrounding it. In May 2004 the Kurtzes were preparing to present Free Range Grain, a project examining GM agriculture, at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA), when Hope Kurtz died of heart failure. Police who responded to Steve Kurtz's 911 call deemed the couple's art suspicious, and called the FBI. Within hours the artist was illegally detained as a suspected "bioterrorist" as dozens of federal agents in Hazmat suits sifted through his work and impounded his computers, manuscripts, books, his cat, and even his wife's body. Today Kurtz and long-time collaborator Dr. Robert Ferrell, Professor of Genetics at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, face trumped-up charges of "mail fraud" and "wire fraud," punishable, thanks to the PATRIOT Act, by up to 20 years in prison.

Buffalo Art Community Joins Worldwide Support of Kurtz and Ferrell
Because the case threatens to establish dangerous precedent for artists and for anyone exercising their First Amendment rights, it has attracted worldwide attention, with fundraisers to support Kurtz and Ferrell organized on 5 continents. Hallwalls and Market Arcade join the many artists, scientists, and concerned citizens who have responded to this outrageous, politically-motivated case, to raise urgently needed money for Kurtz and Ferrell's legal defense. For more information about the case, including an archive of press materials, please visit

The Film
Since the ongoing nature of the case prevents Kurtz from discussing its details, Hershman Leeson has enlisted actors to dramatize parts of the story, skillfully interweaving dialogue with news footage, animation, interviews, testimonials, and footage of Kurtz himself. Tilda Swinton (Chronicles of Narnia, Broken Flowers) and Thomas Jay Ryan (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) play Hope and Steve Kurtz, and Peter Coyote (Femme Fatale) plays Dr. Robert Ferrell. Strange Culture poses questions that are more universal than local at this point in our nation's history. How can artists whose works are critical of government policy continue to create freely given the escalating paranoia of the state? What liberties do we loose to "protect freedom?" The case of Kurtz and Ferrell is of concern not only to scientists, artists, and activists, but to anyone interested in contributing to vital public debate about the actions of their government. More information about the film, including trailers, can be accessed on the web at

Some publications related to this event:
September, 2007 - 2007