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Jytte Jensen, who championed world cinema and emerging filmmakers during the more than 30 years she spent as a film curator at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, died Monday in New York after a short battle with cancer. She was 65.
A native of Denmark who earned an M.A. in Cinema Studios from New York University, Jensen joined MoMA as a research assistant in its Circulating Film Library in 1982. She was officially hired as a curatorial assistant in 1984 and in 2003 was named curator in the Department of Film and Media (now called the Department of Film).
In a note to the museum’s staff, Rajendra Roy, MoMA’s chief film curator, paid tribute to the passion with which Jensen sought out films and filmmakers as she assembled programs for the museum. “There was not a corner of the globe she would not research and engage with; there was not a strongman she wouldn’t stare down or bureaucratic mess she couldn’t untangle,” he said. “And because of that, we have experienced the great works of Pier Paolo Pasolini in their full glory and the sweeping (matriarchal) history of Georgian cinema to name two recent examples. My favorite show was the history of Super-8 film she did in the 1990s.”
Jensen also served on the selection committee for New Directors/New Films, the annual film program sponsored by The Film Society of Lincoln Center and The Museum of Modern Art that is currently taking place. In her own email to the museum’s staff, Film Society executive director Lesli Klainberg noted, “Jytte was so closely identified with our New Directors/New Films series that it seems hard to imagine it without her. As we continue to work through our current installment of ND/NF, please take a moment to consider the impact Jytte had on generations of young filmmakers and programmers alike.”
The exhibitions and publications Jensen oversaw at MoMA ranged from Cinema Novo in Brazil to the experimental cinema of the Arab world. She organized numerous international retrospectives; national surveys; retrospectives of individual international artists; programs of experimental and independent American cinema; and thematic series, among them annual programs such as Premiere Brazil! (2003-12) and Global Lens (2003-13); Prix Jean Vigo (2006), a yearlong celebration of French film; Bright Stars, Big City: Chinese Cinema’s First Golden Era, 1922-1937 (2005); Big as Life: An American History of 8mm Films (1998-99); the three-part Arab cinema survey Mapping Subjectivity (2010-12); and Discovering Georgian Cinema (2014). She also curated retrospectives on Bernardo Bertolucci (2010), Bela Tarr (2001), Abbas Kiarostami (2007), Pasolini (2013) and Milos Forman (2008), among others.
Jensen’s own publications included Benjamin Christensen: An International Dane (1999), “Four Decades of Brazilian Cinema” in Cinema Novo and Beyond (1998) and monographs on Carl Th. Dreyer (1994) and Bela Tarr (2001), as well as numerous interviews and articles for newspapers in the U.S. and abroad.
She also served on the board of The MacDowell Foundation and The American Scandinavian Foundation as well as on many grant and funding panels.
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