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In this moving and wildly innovative film, director Lynn Hershman Leeson tells the terrifying story of how one man's personal tragedy turns into persecution by a paranoid and overzealous government.
Art professor Steve Kurtz's nightmare began on May 11, 2004, when he awoke to find his wife Hope dead of a heart attack. Paramedics responding to his 911 call, suspicious of petri dishes and scientific paraphenalia in his house (materials for an art project on genetically modified food) contacted the FBI, and soon his world was turned upside down. Only hours after his wife s tragic death he was suddenly a murder suspect, an accused bioterrorist, and a pariah to all but his closest friends.
Told through a unique blend of interviews, documentary footage, and reconstructed scenes starring Tilda Swinton, Thomas Jay Ryan, and Peter Coyote, Hershman s critically-acclaimed film is a sophisticated, look at how the traumatic events of 9/11 altered American society and undermined its long-held values.
Extras on the DVD include: Theatrical Trailer, Filmmaker Interviews, Outtakes and Filmmaker Biography.
Though Lynn Hershman Leesons third feature tackles weighty issues like national security and privacy rights, love plays an equal part in the picture. Three years after 9/11, Buffalo-based artist Hope Kurtz (played by Oscar winner Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton), dies from a heart attack. Her husband of 27 years, Steve (Henry Fool's Thomas Jay Ryan), yearns to mourn, but authorities notice bacteria-filled Petri dishes around their house and take him in for questioning (the Kurtz's subject was genetically modified food). Next, the FBI confiscates his computers, his cat--even his wife's body--before charging him and colleague Robert Ferrell (Peter Coyote) with bioterrorist intentions, culminating in indictments for mail and wire fraud. As in Hershman Leeson's previous projects with Swinton, Conceiving Ada and Teknolust, science and art co-mingle. This time, though, she merges interviews, dramatic recreations, and Kurtz himself, which initially proves distracting--he looks nothing like Ryan--but his first-person testimony adds weight to the actor's believable performance. Though the director grapples with big ideas, she never loses sight of the people behind them. Her intentionally one-sided portrait of an insular art world flirts with pretension, but for those truly concerned about the issues at hand--and the humans affected by them--Strange Culture will surely break a few hearts. At the time of filming, Kurtz's case remained unresolved, but the opening title conveys both optimism and respect: "This film is dedicated to Hope." Extras include an interview with the subject and a comprehensive profile of the filmmaker. --Kathleen C. FennessySee all Editorial Reviews
- Theatrical trailer
- Filmmaker interviews
- Filmmaker biography
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The story starts with a personal tragedy. Hope Kurtz, Steve's wife of many years, dies suddenly, in her sleep. Distraught, he calls 911. Some panicky first responder sees petri dishes and lab gear, and reports this art installation in-the-making as a bioterror lab. While tearing the grieving widower's home apart, the FBI discovers among his papers an invitation to a museum show opening - with Arabic writing printed on it. Never mind that the well-respected museum sent out thousands of these invitations, that's enough to link him to post-9/11 terrorists.
Of course, there was no case. The Kurtzes were artists preparing a statement on GMO foods. They worked closely with a biology professor at a nearby university, making sure they handled even their very harmless bacteria with proper lab protocol. Never mind, once the feds decided there was a case, they'd make one out of nothing, if necessary. As the terrorism charges evaporated, they somehow concocted a "mail fraud" case out of the artists' mail orders for cultures and equipment, good for 20 years in prison. This included samples Serratia marcescens - though sometimes a risk to immunocompromised, I used it as a high school sophomore in route biology classes.
The film ends at an odd moment - before the final verdicts were in. That suspense probably serves a purpose, though, in leaving the viewers with something nagging and worrisome at the back of their minds. Worry seems well placed in this case - if the U.S. vs. Kurtz case resulted in convictions, however inane, that would have been legal precedent for further future clampdowns on legitimate study and expression.
The film lacks explicit drama - recreations of the events interleaved with the principals telling the story in first person. The meaning and point of the film are dramatic enough. I strongly recommend this to anyone concerned about the erosion of freedom and the federally-sanctioned bullying that brings it about.
I am afraid after a half hour I found myself numbed by the prologue and turned the film off.
The docudrama contains some thought provoking commentary on how we allow these things to happen..how ready we are surrender our freedoms when we are afraid.
Kurtz was working on an arts project to both teach and comment on the ubiquitous and undisclosed presence of genetically modified food. The material he had at home in connection with this project, petrie dishes and lab equiment as well as harmless bio cultures of various kinds, brought him under scrutiny of police officials who responded to his 911 call on finding his wife of 27 years had died in her sleep of heart failure.
I had never heard of this documentary before and see this very artful well done film has only 8 amazon reviews. It is a must see..a great pick for reshowing on college campuses, at community theaters local libraries and other places where there is an opportunity for discussion after viewing.
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