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Steve McQueen’s Gripping Cannes Documentary ‘Occupied City’ Connects Today’s Amsterdam With Era Of Nazi Occupation

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Amsterdam today. Pause on a bridge and watch the Amstel River gently flow through picturesque canals. Eighty years ago, the same vista might have revealed a horror – bodies floating by of Jews who had flung themselves into the Amstel rather than face cruel death from the occupying Nazi forces.

A park bench in the Dutch city today. A young couple embraces in glowing sunshine. Eight decades ago, benches in parks and public squares were specifically barred to Jews. “Jews found seated upon these benches,” noted a newspaper account published in September 1942, “will be arrested and deported to forced labor in Germany, together with their families.” In Oscar-winning filmmaker Steve McQueen’s documentary Occupied City, premiering at the Cannes Film Festival on May 17, present and past continuously intersect and overlap in the capital of the Netherlands.

The visuals all show contemporary Amsterdam – its streets, squares, 17th century buildings – while the narration points out, in even tones, what took place at those very locations during World War II when the Nazis ruled: arrests, executions, betrayals, acts of inhumanity and, sometimes, acts of heroism.

A U.K. native, McQueen lives in Amsterdam with his wife, Dutch journalist, author and filmmaker Bianca Stigter, who wrote the text of the documentary and co-produced the film. “When I first came to Amsterdam — not living in an occupied country growing up in London — what sort of was very strange for me was walking around and seeing all these places that had this history behind it, which had to do with the Nazification of the Netherlands,” he tells Deadline. “Walking down a street and seeing a little statue and finding out that this is where 15 people were gathered up and

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