Jytte Jensen with MoMA colleagues Larry Kardish and Rajendra Roy at New Directors/New Films in 2011. Photo by Godlis.
Jytte Jensen, a champion of international cinema and a leading figure in New York's film community, passed away Monday night after a battle with cancer. A friend and colleague to many here and around the world, Jensen was Curator in the Film Department at the Museum of Modern Art, where she worked for more than 30 years, most recently shaping the lineup for this week's New Directors/New Films Series produced by MoMA and the Film Society of Lincoln Center.
Rajendra Roy, the Celeste Bartos Chief Curator of Film at MoMA, circulated a note Tuesday morning to the museum staff about her passing: “It is with an extremely heavy heart that I write today. Our admired and beloved colleague Jytte died last night after a fierce—but relatively short—-battle with cancer. Jytte first worked at MoMA in 1982 as a Research Assistant in the Circulating Film Library at MoMA. She was officially hired in 1984 as a Curatorial Assistant, and rose to become Curator in the Department of Film and Media in 2003.”
Jensen is perhaps best known to frequenters of the Film Society through her work on the selection committee for New Directors/New Films, the annual series spotlighting up-and-coming filmmakers. The 44th edition of the event is currently underway through March 29.
At MoMA, she has organized hundreds of programs, including “Premiere Brazil!,” “Global Lens,” “Big as Life: An American History of 8mm Films,” a three-part Arab cinema survey called “Mapping Subjectivity,” as well as “Discovering Georgian Cinema.” She also curated monographic retrospectives on Bernard Bertolucci, Béla Tarr, Abbas Kiarostami, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Milos Forman, and many more.
Jytte Jensen with A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night director Ana Lily Amirpour at New Directors/New Films in 2014. Photo by Godlis.
Jensen received an M.A. in Cinema Studies from New York University, and later authored publications on world cinema, was on the board of The MacDowell Colony and The American Scandinavian Foundation, in addition to serving on a number of grant and funding panels. Her written work includes Benjamin Christensen: An International Dane (1999), “Four Decades of Brazilian Cinema” in Cinema Novo and Beyond (1998), monographs on Carl Th. Dreyer (1994) and Béla Tarr (2001), as well as interviews and articles for newspapers in the U.S. and abroad. She programmed a selection of American independent cinema for the Pordenone Silent Film Festival in 1986 and has assisted in programming several other festivals and art institutions internationally. Jensen has also served on film-festival juries in Oberhausen, Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City, and at Sundance.
Added Roy in his note to MoMA staff Tuesday: “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. 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.”
Former MoMA Department of Film Senior Curator Laurence Kardish worked with Jensen when she began her tenure at MoMA in 1982 until he retired in 2012. He gave an emotional remembrance of his colleague Tuesday, while paying tribute to her passionate work at the museum: “It is not possible and extremely stupid that Jytte, who was the most dynamic, stubborn, and moral curator is dead. Well, she isn't because the original exhibitions she organized from the history of 8mm to recent moving-image work from the Middle East, from Abbas Kiarostami to Jia Zhang-ke and Carlos Reygadas are still defining exhibitions, living and influential.”
The Film Society's Executive Director Lesli Klainberg praised Jensen early Tuesday morning in an e-mail circulated to staff, noting that her work will continue to influence others long after her passing: “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. We extend our heartfelt sympathy to our friends at MoMA.”
Jytte Jensen with fellow New Directors/New Films selection committee members in 2013. Photo by Godlis.
Richard Peña, Director Emeritus, New York Film Festival and Professor of Film Studies at Columbia University today recalled Jensen's passion for film and her personal touch: “Jytte was a great friend, who leaves a gaping hole in the field. She lived and breathed cinema; there was hardly a subject about movies on which she couldn't hold forth, and if per chance you stumbled on something she didn't know, she'd grill you until she knew as much as you did. But beyond her obvious brilliance and stature in the profession, she was a warm, loving person who was never too busy to send a note to congratulate you on something or just to find out how you were. Thank you for everything, Jytte—you'll always be in our hearts.”
“She was a brilliant curator who did so much to enrich and diversify film culture in and beyond New York,” said Dennis Lim, the Film Society's Director of Programming and fellow ND/NF selection-committee member. “Look at her track record and it’s obvious just how much of a difference she made to emerging filmmakers the world over. Anyone who was lucky enough to work closely with Jytte, as I did on the last couple editions of New Directors/New Films, can also tell you that no one cared as much, fought as hard, or had as much fun with it all. She was warm, tough, generous, infectious in her enthusiasm, delightful in her candor. She had the slyest sense of humor and the best bullshit detector in the business. It’s hard to imagine New Directors continuing without her, but I know how proud she was of this edition. This, for me, is a festival that will always bear her imprint, will always stand as a tribute to her legacy.”
“She will be deeply missed by all of us at MoMA, especially in the Department of Film and by countless artists, professionals, and friends around the globe,” concluded Roy Tuesday. “When I spoke to her in recent weeks, we talked about the great films that inspired us to stay in this crazy business. Of the many she loved, today I'm thinking mostly about Melancholia by her friend and fellow Dane, Lars von Trier. It's on Netflix… and like Jytte, it is unforgettable.”