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‘Occupied City’ reveals Amsterdam sites during Nazi German control

Steve McQueen, director of the Best Picture winner “12 Years a Slave,” created the more than four-hour historical project.

Image of Amsterdam. Credit: Lucas Grey/Pixabay.
Image of Amsterdam. Credit: Lucas Grey/Pixabay.

The British filmmaker Steve McQueen and Bianca Stigter, his wife and creative partner, described their views on history and European antisemitism in a recent interview discussing their new documentary, “Occupied City.”

Disputing the idea that antisemitism has been “reoccurring,” McQueen stated that “it’s always been there. Some people have been deaf to it, others have not, but it’s always been there … When a specific incident happens, people say, ‘Oh, antisemitism is on the rise.’ No. It’s always been there. Like racism. It’s always been there.”

McQueen directed the Oscar-winning “12 Years a Slave” (2013) and the crime thriller “Widows” (2018). Stigter’s most recent film was the 2021 “Three Minutes: A Lengthening,” which incorporates evocative footage of Jewish residents in a Polish village before the start of World War II. Neither is Jewish.

“Occupied City” takes an opposite approach, compiling extensive filming in a four-hour, 20-minute film to reveal the World War II histories of locations where the couple lives, Amsterdam, when the Dutch city was occupied by the Nazis.

Stigter said the kindergarten their children attended “was where the police battalion, who would round up Jews in Amsterdam, was housed.” She said “their primary school was a Jewish school before the war but was taken over when Jewish kids had to go to separate schools.”

McQueen said the film “was initiated from living with ghosts. Five days a week, bringing my children to school.”

Stigter said that “where my daughter went to high school was the headquarters of the German security police. Where they put their bicycles in the basement is where there were interrogation cells.”

“Occupied City” has started premieres in the United States, playing in New York City and Los Angeles, with plans to expand to Chicago, Seattle, Phoenix and other locations.

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