TELLURIDE, Colo. -- 12 Years a Slave, a drama based on the remarkable true story of a free black man from the north who was deceived and sold into slavery in the south in 1850s America, had its world premiere Friday evening here at the Galaxy Theatre. The film was greeted with thunderous applause when its end credits began to roll; moments later, the audience offered a standing ovation as its director Steve McQueen and stars Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong'o and Brad Pitt (who is also a producer of the film) were introduced for a brief Q&A. The film, which will next screen at the Toronto Film Festival, will be released by Fox Searchlight on Oct. 18.
Word leaked early in the fest that 12 Years would be a “TBA screening,' and the attendant excitement drew a full house that included Ralph Fiennes, Ken Burns, Michael Moore, J.C. Chandor and Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the recently-elected, first black president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. By the time the theater emptied out, few hadn't shed a tear in response to the emotional rollercoaster on which they had just journied.
McQueen's previous two films -- Hunger (2008), which is about a hunger striker, and Shame (2011), which is about a sex addict -- both also debuted at Telluride. And like them, Twelve Years is an extremely dark work that will almost certainly resonate more with critics than the general public. But unlike those earlier two films, which received a grand total of zero Oscar nominations, this one, because of its larger historical canvas and the magnificent performances from its giant ensemble cast, will almost certainly resonate more with the Academy. Indeed, I believe that it will strongly contend for noms in the categories of best picture, best director, best actor (Ejiofor), best supporting actor (Fassbender), best supporting actress (N'yongo) and best adapted screenplay (for John Ridley's take on Solomon Northup's 1853 autobiography of the same title).
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