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’12 Years a Slave’ Sets Toronto Film Festival On Fire

12 Years a Slave” has stirred up the Toronto Film Festival with major Oscar buzz. Audiences and critics alike were wowed, with most of them predicting a Best Picture Oscar win, in the same way films like No Country For Old Men, Slumdog Millionaire, The Hurt Locker and last year’s TFF favorite, Argo went on to win Academy awards after impressive screenings in Toronto.

Directed by British filmmaker Steve McQueen, the film tells the true story of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free African-American from upstate New York who was abducted in 1841 and forced into slavery on a Louisiana plantation. The movie, adapted from Northup’s 1853 autobiography, co-stars Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt, Alfre Woodard and Paul Dano.

Ejiofor, in what’s likely the biggest role of his career, believes slavery is something that has defined the experience of half the planet. “I am Igbo, my family is Igbo from the east of Nigeria,” said Ejiofor. “Hundreds of thousands of Igbo were taken from southeast Nigeria to Louisiana.”

Acclaimed by some as one of the best slave movies ever made,  “12 Years a Slave” is already being compared to other takes on slavery in America, such as the spaghetti western Django Unchained TV mini-series Roots, and the blaxploitation film Mandingo.

“McQueen’s work exists on an entirely different plane than the facetious, audience-baiting sadism of the recent ‘Django Unchained,'”  wrote Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune. Much of “12 Years a Slave” is difficult to stomach. Yet McQueen, a visual artist who works in several mediums, is neither clinical nor salacious in his depiction of what Northup survived, and so many others did not.

Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman praised the film writing:

“Steve McQueen’s agonizingly magnificent 12 Years a Slave, which premiered last night in Toronto, a sense of terror is alive in almost every scene. To describe even one moment of this movie as a “kick” would be obscene. It evokes the lives of African-American slaves as the nightmare it was, with violence spun into a daily fabric of brutality, one that’s neither heightened nor exaggerated, just scarily real. Forget the earnest and epochal (but, in hindsight, not really raw enough) TV mini-series Roots, forget the baroque exploitation of Mandingo, and — despite the overstated accolades it received — forget Django. As a drama of the slave experience, 12 Years a Slave renders them all irrelevant. It is a new movie landmark of cruelty and transcendence.

“The initial response has been so amazing,”  said Ejiofor to Phillips. “But I do want people to look at it with their own eyes. The thing about hype and buzz is that it affects the experience, somehow. I want people to ignore the buzz.”

“12 Years a Slave” is a release from Fox Searchlight Pictures and the masses will get their chance to see what all the buzz is about when the film debuts in  theaters October 18, 2013.

Check out the trailer here.

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