In Steve McQueen’s ‘Occupied City,’ a Marriage of Art and History

When British filmmaker Steve McQueen considered making a feature film about a free man who was captured and sold into slavery, his wife, Dutch journalist and historian Bianca Stigter, suggested he start with a true story. Stigter found a 1853 memoir by Solomon Northup, a New York man kidnapped, sold, and enslaved for 12 years in Louisiana. McQueen was immediately drawn to Northup’s story and decided to adapt it into the Oscar-winning film “12 Years a Slave.” This creative symbiosis between the couple has defined their 28-year relationship.

In 2022, Stigter made her first film, “Three Minutes: A Lengthening,” a documentary based on rare footage of a Polish village before the Holocaust, with McQueen as a co-producer. Meanwhile, McQueen’s latest film, “Occupied City,” is their most extensive collaboration to date. The four-hour documentary, based on Stigter’s book “Atlas of an Occupied City: Amsterdam 1940-1945,” brings to light the historical enhancements of Amsterdam during Nazi rule.

McQueen, a recognized filmmaker and visual artist, has lived in Amsterdam since the late 1990s with Stigter. His fascination with the city’s layered history, from the Golden Age of the 17th century to the horrors of World War II, led him to create “Occupied City.” The film is a visual and text-based exploration of Amsterdam’s wartime past, highlighting over 2,000 locations from Stigter’s book and capturing contemporary life during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The 247-minute “Occupied City” takes a reflective and thought-provoking look at how the atrocities of World War II intersect with modern-day events. This convergence serves as a mirror for viewers to contemplate the relevance of history in their own lives. As the film opens in U.S. theaters on December 25th, McQueen and Stigter see their collaborative work as a labor of love that reflects their mutual appreciation and ongoing partnership.

In addition to the film, McQueen is planning to create a future artwork that will include every address in Stigter’s book. The process of bringing “Occupied City” to the public has been a significant endeavor for the couple, adding to their shared legacy alongside their two children.

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