Q&A with Steve McQueen and Bianca Stigter on Oct. 1 & 2

Includes a 15-minute intermission.

A work of patient storytelling and gripping historical excavation, Steve McQueen’s four-and-a-half-hour documentary is a mammoth confrontation with a shameful historical legacy that draws parallels to our contemporary world. With startling sobriety, McQueen (12 Years a Slave, NYFF51; Small Axe, NYFF58) recounts in prismatic fashion the realities of life in Amsterdam during World War II under the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. Rather than rely on archival footage or talking heads, McQueen constructs the film from exquisitely composed, newly captured images of Amsterdam, compiled over the past three years, including during the city’s COVID lockdown. Over these shots, provocatively detached voiceover by actress Melanie Hyams—adapted from the book Atlas of an Occupied City (Amsterdam 1940-1945) by Dutch journalist and documentarian Bianca Stigter—narrates the evils that took place in these exact places, public and private, not even a century ago. Recalling McQueen’s more durational installation work as much as his narrative cinema, Occupied City accrues power as it forges ahead. Visually representing these spaces entirely within a present-day context, McQueen evokes the rise of right-wing extremism currently felt throughout the Western world, while never letting us forget that everywhere we stand is haunted by a violent past—and that to be in history is to constantly walk upon graves. An A24 release.

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