12 Years A Slave, the new film staring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Brad Pitt and Michael Fassbender, premiered at TIFF Friday night, eliciting an incredible response from audiences and critics alike. In fact, critics were so overwhelmed by the film, many have already declared it the winner of the next Best Picture Oscar.

Directed by acclaimed director Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame), 12 Years A Slave depicts the true story of a free black man, Solomon, who is kidnapped from the North and forced into slavery in the South in 1841. The film has been steadily gaining buzz for some time, and, according to critics, has exceeded expectations in Toronto.

“I made this movie because I wanted to tell a story about slavery. A story, for me, which hadn’t been given a platform in cinema,” McQueen said at the press conference following the premiere.

McQueen was on hand to present the film, as were stars Pitt, who also served as a producer on the film, Ejiofor, Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Lupita Nyong’o, Paul Dano, Alfre Woodard, Paul Giamatti and Sarah Paulson.

12 Years A Slave received a standing ovation from the audience, and the screening was followed up by a short Q&A session. McQueen praised the actors and the team behind the film, and Pitt spoke about the film as the pinnacle of his career.

“If I never get to participate in a film again, this is it for me. It was a privilege,” Pitt said about his part in the film.

Based on the emotional reception of the film, Pitt isn’t the only one to recognize the impact of 12 Years A Slave. The audience at the premiere was reportedly riddled with tear-strained faces and horrified expressions throughout (an appropriate reaction considering the horrific subject matter.)

“It wasn’t just that people broke down crying throughout – though plenty in my audience did – it’s that during the closing credits, when I finally found it in me to stand and turn around, I looked back at faces that were shell-shocked to the core,” wrote Vulture’s Kyle Buchanan on his viewing experience.

Film critic Owen Gleiberman, who writes for Entertainment Weekly, echoed this statement, writing that, due to McQueen’s mastery of the moving image, 12 Years A Slave is a beautiful tragedy, horrifying yet griping for any audience.

“[12 Years A Slave] 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… It is a new movie landmark of cruelty and transcendence,” Gleiberman writes.

“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,” writes Michael Phillips of Chicago Tribune.

As for Ejiofor, who has been receiving rave reviews for his show stopping performance in the film, he hopes that audiences will be able to separate the film from the buzz.

“The initial response has been so amazing. 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,” Ejiofor told the Chicago Tribune.

12 Years A Slave opens Oct. 18.

Olivia Truffaut-Wong

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