'12 Years a Slave' wins top audience prize in Toronto
05:00 AM, Sep 15, 2013
On Sunday, the Toronto International Film Festival handed out several awards, the biggest going to critical favorite 12 Years a Slave.
The slavery film took home the People’s Choice prize, solidifying the feature’s Oscar chances come March. In the past, movies including The King’s Speech, Slumdog Millionaire and American Beauty earned the bellwether audience award. All three were eventually best-picture winners at the Oscars.
“At a festival that has shown so many brilliant films, I cannot be more thrilled to receive this award,” said director Steve McQueen in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter after his film’s win. He added, “I am deeply grateful to all the people who have worked on this film, and that their amazing work has been recognized.”
It was clear at the Sept. 6 festival premiere that 12 Years a Slave, which is based on a true story, had wowed the crowd; the audience rose in a standing ovation as soon as credits rolled. Two days later, its stars reflected on all the attention with USA TODAY.
“I love the film,” said star Chiwetel Ejiofor, seeming slightly dazed from days of press. He takes on title character Solomon Northup, a free black man kidnapped in 1841 and sold into slavery in the South. “I think it’s a really strong piece of work. But I also want people to come to it without all the buzz and the hype and this and that. It’s a story of a man going through an extraordinary circumstance. And I do feel it needs to be engaged with in its own quiet, reflective way.”
Michael Fassbender, who plays a psychotic cotton plantation owner in the film, called the McQueen film a “masterwork,” and says he considers the interest “icing on the cake. But the cake is the cake.”
At the premiere, producer Brad Pitt (who also cameos in the film) took the stage, explaining why McQueen took on the challenging subject, which is treated starkly, and often violently. The director “was the first to ask the big question: Why aren’t there more films about American slavery? It took a Brit to ask,” said Pitt.
Also popular at the festival was Philomena, which earned the People’s Choice first runner-up spot, with the Jake Gyllenhaal and Hugh Jackman drama Prisoners placing second runner-up.