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MoMA Fires Assistant Film Curator Sally Berger After 30 Years at the Museum

MoMA fired assistant film curator Sally Berger, who has worked at the institution for thirty years, possibly over her controversial decision to pull a documentary film about North Korea from a film festival hosted by the museum, Graham Winfrey of Indiewire reports.

The museum’s chief curator of film, Rajendra Roy, confirmed the dismissal. He wrote in an e-mail, “My actions reflect several complex and substantive issues, and are the result of a long and deliberative process that Sally has been part of. As painful as this decision has been, I stand by it.”

A spokeswoman for the museum, Margaret Doyle, said she could not discuss the details behind the decision. However, there has been much speculation on social media that Berger’s decision to pull the documentary film Under the Sun (2015) from MoMA’s 2016 Doc Fortnight festival in February could be the reason behind the museum’s decision.

According to the New York Times, MoMA apologized for dropping the film from its festival lineup this week, several months after the event. Supposedly, Berger had expressed concerns about screening the film in January. She was apparently worried that the museum would be targeted by North Korea in a digital attack similar to the 2014 hacking into Sony Pictures’ computer system after it released the satirical movie The Interview (2014), starring James Franco and Seth Rogen. The curator told the documentary’s distributor that the film “just simply came in too late to review all the possible ramifications of showing it here at MoMA.”

Roy said, “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.”

Directed by Vitaly Mansky, the ninety-minute film follows a young girl and her parents as she prepares to join the Korean Children’s Union in Pyongyang. The North Korean government had to approve the making of the film in order for Mansky to have access to the country, but the crew was accompanied at all times by “minders.” The locations were pre-selected and the scenes were set up to reflect the patriotism of its subjects. However, Mansky was able to reveal how the country was manipulating the production of the film when he edited it. After its release, the documentary was widely criticized by the North Korean and Russian governments.

Supporters of Berger, such as filmmaker Su Friedrich, are incredulous that the decision to exclude the film resulted in the firing of the veteran curator. Friedrich remarked on Facebook, “This is insane!” Fellow curators, such as former MoMA film curator Laurence Kardish, have also spoken out about Berger’s dismissal. He said, “I no longer understand what goes on in my old stomping grounds . . . Doesn’t a curator have the right to pick and choose what is to be shown under his/her auspices?”