Conceiving Ada

Institute History

  • 1998 Sundance Film Festival


In her inspired crossover from video artist to feature writer/director, Lynn Hershman Leeson grafts past and future into an ingenious high-tech fantasy of time travel. Her subject is the legendary Lady Ada Lovelace, the real-life character who was not only born Lord Byron’s daughter but also grew into a math genius and the inventor of computer language—a century ahead of schedule. Casting the inimitable Tilda Swinton as Ada, Hershman Leeson creates an aura of magic that plays off of modern computer visions as it reconstructs a past life dominated by love and mathematics.

Conceiving Ada concerns the obsession of one contemporary hacker, Emmy (Francesca Faridany), obsessed with inventing a mechanism that will enable her to enter the past and make direct contact with Lovelace, her object of fascination. She’s on a rescue mission: to connect with Ada and access her knowledge before her premature death obliterates the legacy. Hershman Leeson is up to the task, from the virtual sets which the actors inhabit with digital ease to the ingenious casting that incorporates everyone from John Perry Barlow to the late Timothy Leary (who makes a damn fine oracle). Has there ever been a film so joyously about women, knowledge, and mastery? And it’s even fun. Conceiving Ada brings a new vernacular to contemporary independent film. Its digitized sets take period filming low budget, while its video/computer language updates movie conventions. All in all, it’s that rare sci-fi tale that actually leaves us wiser about our own time.

Lynn Hershman Leeson, Director
Lynn Hershman Leeson, who was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1941, was the first woman and electronic artist honored with a tribute at the San Francisco International Film Festival (1994). Her work has garnered many international awards. She also works in photography and electronic sculpture, has had many museum exhibitions, and has completed fifty-two videotapes. Conceiving Ada is her first feature film.

— B. Ruby Rich

Screening Details

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