Occupied City

Occupied City

Where do the memories of a city go? From Oscar- and BAFTA-winning filmmaker and Turner Prize-winning visual artist Steve McQueen comes this mesmerising and monumental excavation of how the past haunts our precarious present: mirroring it and warning us in plain sight.

In Occupied City, a searching camera sweeps through a vibrant contemporary Amsterdam while, at the same time, the film summons people and memories of the past under Nazi occupation within the city’s map and woven into the fabric of its streets and buildings. McQueen opens up a poetic, dreamlike space where unthinkable history and hope for a new future co-exist.

The film is informed by the rigorously researched and lauded Atlas of an Occupied City: Amsterdam 1940-1945, written by historian and filmmaker Bianca Stigter, McQueen’s partner. The film travels to around 130 addresses in the city to uncover what occurred behind each window in those calamitous years. The emotional power of these stories accumulates over the course of the film, laying bare the mechanics of both systematic oppression and sudden bravery; both calculated terror and life-saving luck; both ordinary and extraordinary ways of surviving.

Yet, the film’s hypnotic imagery is entirely of our time, persistently moving forward. McQueen uses no archival footage, nor a single interview. Instead, the panoramas are awash in the rhythms of modern daily life, shot through at times with the eerie time-distortion of covid’s protocols and losses, and the sudden eruption of fervid street protests—for freedom, against racism, and to halt climate change.

The film is a meditation on time, memory, and immediacy—history as something all around us, and something we continually create. It is also a highly personal journey, as we weave in and out of houses and remembrances, in and out of grief, indignation, and moments of joy, hearing history, seeing the recent world, and wondering about tomorrow.

Directed by
Runtime 266 Minutes
Release date 15 March 2024
  • Certification: 12