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Steve McQueen says new film about Nazi-occupied Amsterdam is ‘a call to arms’ | Ents & Arts News


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Oscar-winning director Sir Steve McQueen says his new film about Nazi-occupied Amsterdam is a “call to arms”.

The four-hour documentary fuses imagery of present-day Amsterdam with narration, taking the viewer through the day-to-day life of the Jewish community under Nazi occupation.

McQueen‘s new film Occupied City is adapted from his wife Bianca Stigter’s Dutch-language book Atlas Of An Occupied City (Amsterdam 1940-1945).

It is the latest offering from the acclaimed British director who counts Oscar-winning Twelve Years A Slave, Hunger, and BBC series Small Axe to his credits.

Speaking to Sky News’s Backstage podcast at the London Film Festival for the film’s UK premiere, McQueen says his four-hour documentary brings back the horrors of fascism.

“I don’t think we can actually understand the sort of fear and the environment that one was in. And also, strangely enough, maybe because of that, people forget it,” he said.

It’s about “bringing it up into the present-day psyche”, he added.

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It’s this psyche that brings the film into the path of Britain’s modern political discourse.

Sir Steve McQueen arrives for a screening of Occupied City at the BFI London Film Festival at the Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre in London. Picture date: Thursday October 5, 2023.
Steve McQueen at the London Film Festival screening of Occupied City

In the aftermath of the Second World War, the Human Rights Act and its enforcer, the European Court of Human Rights, were created – with the UK as one of its founding nations.

McQueen’s comments come just days after the Conservative Party conference in Manchester where Home Secretary Suella Braverman joked “I’m surprised they didn’t call it the Criminal Rights Act” while talking about illegal immigration.

“I think whatever populism, whatever drum people are going to beat to sort of get votes or to get sort of noticed I think hopefully people will see through that and understand what’s actually going on,” McQueen said.

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Fusing Amsterdam’s present with narration by Melanie Hyams, the horrors that occurred at each film location are brought to life.

McQueen aims not just to reflect on this part of shared history but also to encourage audiences to think about where we are heading politically today.

He said: “I think that’s what this film is about, it was a rallying cry as a warning of pending dangers of the right, but also the fact that if you don’t do anything, nothing happens. So, it is a call to arms if anything.”

Bianca Stigter arrives for a screening of Occupied City at the BFI London Film Festival at the Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre in London. Picture date: Thursday October 5, 2023.
Bianca Stigter

For Dutch producer and historian Stigter, this is an issue close to home as well.

“That’s in Amsterdam and the Netherlands too and if this film can help to be an antidote to that, please, please, please,” she said.

McQueen is optimistic though, saying we shouldn’t underestimate the British public.

“Especially because the last five years have been so turbulent, people are switched on. I am very positive about that particular idea,” he said.

“And people understand what’s going on because they’ve seen through a lot of lies, seen through a lot of the situations where people are not telling the truth.”

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Occupied City posits the atrocities of fascism with the present day, and the Oscar-winning director admits it is “a call to arms”, a “siren call” and a “warning of pending dangers” for his home country.

But when pressed if he believes this “populism” means Britain is at risk of becoming a fascist country, McQueen is tight-lipped.

“Next question,” he told Sky News and moves swiftly onto the next interview.

Occupied City is due to be released in Spring 2024.

For more on London Film Festival listen to the latest episode of Backstage, the film and TV podcast from Sky News recorded at the London Film Festival and featuring interviews with Steve McQueen, Martin Scorsese and Lulu Wang.

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