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MoMA curator Sally Berger fired over disinviting documentarian to film festival

The New York Times reports that MoMA associate curator Sally Berger disinvited Russian filmmaker Vitaly Mansky to the Doc Fortnight festival due to its controversial content that recorded North Korean officials staging the documentary, which has been denounced by that country. The rescinded invitation apparently cost Berger her job. The curator was reportedly concerned that MoMA could face retribution from North Korea in light of the Sony Pictures Entertainment hack allegedly spearheaded by North Korea in protest of the satirical movie The Interview in 2014. However farfetched the reason for Berger’s admittedly censorious disinvitation, it’s incredibly unfortunate that Berger, who has many many years experience at MoMA, would be let go for this.

Read the report in partial below, or in full via New York Times.

The Museum of Modern Art has acknowledged it wrongly canceled the New York debut of “Under the Sun,” a documentary about North Korea that has been criticized by that country and Russia.

A slyly subversive look at the reclusive state by the Russian filmmaker Vitaly Mansky, the film had been scheduled to be shown at the museum’s 2016 Doc Fortnight festival on Feb. 19-29. But an email exchange provided by the film’s German producer to The New York Times shows that a festival organizer, Sally Berger, an assistant curator at MoMA, expressed concern in late January about screening the film after reading an article suggesting that any organization that did so risked retribution from North Korea.

In the emails, Ms. Berger referred to a major hacking attack on Sony Pictures that the United States has described as retaliation by North Korea for a 2014 film satire of the country, “The Interview.”

She followed up a few days later to tell the documentary’s distributor that it would not be included in the festival. “It just simply came in too late to review all the possible ramifications of showing it here at MoMA,” she wrote.

Asked about the decision to withdraw the film, Rajendra Roy, the chief curator of MoMA’s film department, said Thursday in a written statement: “‘Under the Sun’ is a remarkable documentary that was wrongly disinvited.” He added that the decision was “made by the festival’s curator without my knowledge or input.”

The museum said on Friday that Ms. Berger was no longer working there. Margaret Doyle, a spokeswoman for the museum, declined to elaborate, and Ms. Berger, reached by telephone, said she would not comment.

The documentary’s subversive quality lies in how Mr. Mansky chose to shoot it. With the scenes completely staged by the North Koreans, he simply let his cameras run all day, every day. Thereby he captured the staging, multiple takes and more general manipulation that constitutes the reality North Korea reveals to the outside world.

*Image of Sally Berger via dokweb.net

Firing Sally Berger over this suggests that another agenda was at work. MoMA may be quick to show people the door, but this was a judgment call on her part and did not rise to a firing offense. MoMA, in my experience, uses small missteps to oust people whose back they wish to see. Sally has had a long and illustrious history at MoMA.