British film director Steve McQueen has spoken about the inspiration he has gained from living in Amsterdam at the premiere of his documentary Occupied City at the Cannes Film Festival.
The film, which runs to over four hours, is based on the book, Atlas of an Occupied City, Amsterdam 1940-1945 by his partner Bianca Stigter, and has been described as an ‘excavation’ of the Dutch capital at the time of the Nazi occupation.
The film is narrated by Melanie Hyams and evokes the city’s past using contemporary images. McQueen, according to the festival guide ‘never yielded to the temptation of inserting a single archival image into his documentary’.
McQueen, who divides his time between the Dutch capital and London, told his audience in France that film makers often find their inspiration “under your bed or on your doorstep”.
In Amsterdam, he is quoted as saying by the Parool, “you don’t have to travel far to find something interesting. Sometimes it is enough just to look properly around you.”
Amsterdam resident Steve Green, who translated the book for the film maker, told Dutch News that in the original work “a picture gradually emerges of the human scale, the coincidences of Nazis, collaborators, Jews and resistance fighters living in close proximity; the messiness of human life in the most extreme of circumstances.”
Translating the book for the film script changed the way he experienced Amsterdam, Green said. “It made the past feel very present and relevant. It confirmed some of my suspicions, but it was also inspiring and brought greater understanding for the choices people make in extreme times.
“It also somehow opened up a more direct connection when I think about people in Ukraine – and Sudan, and Syria, and Myanmar, and…. People who would rather be having a very different kind of life.”
Screen Daily described McQueen’s film as “a solemn tribute to Amsterdam” and an “ethereal visualisation of collective memory past and present”. Deadline.com says the documentary “takes its place among great WWII-themed films”.
The film will be released in the Netherlands later this year.
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