Chiwetel Ejiofor & Michael Fassbender

Menacing slave owner Michael Fassbender (L) threatens Chiwetel Ejiofor

*The amazing true-life story of Solomon Northup is embodied in “12 Years a Slave.”

Northup was a free man with a wife and children in upstate New York until 1841 when he was abducted and sold into slavery.

His cruel and incredible journey is brought to life onscreen by an award winning, exceptional performance by Chiwetel Ejiofor. Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong‘o, Alfre Woodard, Benedict Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt, Sarah Paulson, Michael Kenneth Williams, Adepero Oduye and Paul Giamatti also star.

While waiting in the holding suite to do interviews at the Concord Hotel in New York City on Sunday, September 16, there were rounds of applause when word came in from the Toronto International Film Festival that “12 Years a Slave” won the top prize—Toronto’s People’s Choice Award. Pitt, who is also a producer of “12 Years a Slave,” was quoted saying at the Festival that, “If I never get to participate in a film again, this is it for me.”

At the New York Press Conference at the Concord, members of the cast were eager to talk about their “12 Years a Slave” experience. Ejiofor spoke of an unsettling incident that made him pause. “I’ve always been aware of slavery here and felt connected to,” he explained. “I remember when I was in Savannah, Georgia there are these two tours. In one, this guy pulls up in a very small transit van and takes you on the black tour. I went on that one and we came to this little alcove that back in the day was used to take the slaves from off the boats, there were these huge cast iron gates that would slam shut and I noticed that there were these extra bolts on the wall that hadn’t been removed and had probably been there for hundreds of years.

“I said to the guy why are there these extra bolts on the wall and he said that’s for the Ibos and I said I’m Ibo! I had a to sit down and take a moment because I’m very connected to this experience. Hundreds of thousands of Ibos were taken out of southeastern Nigeria and brought to America. I feel this is an international story and will always be an international story…It’s about human respect and human dignity, which is an international idea. So I felt a great responsibility in telling this story.”

Paula Paulson said director Steve McQueen told her very early on, “I don’t want you to apologize” for her racist character. “This woman,” she continued, “behaved that way because she was a product of her time.  I don’t think she had an emotional or psychological capacity to challenge the limitations of what she was taught and so when confronted with big feelings of jealousy and of being usurped; and having the man that she is married to clearly have his heart set on another [Lipita Nyong’o].”

Newcomer Nyong’o is an impressive talent. In fact, Fassbender said she made him up his game. “Lupita came to the set when we were doing the soap scene,” he offered. “I could see was carrying it all in her body when she arrived. She knew she had to go to a certain place and she was retaining it. She obviously walked there with that information and I could see the hunger of a new student coming out of school and that’s such a beautiful thing to see. Basically it made me think, ‘I gotta get my shit together here.’” Exclusive interviews with cast members will follow.

The Film Society of Lincoln Center and Film Comment Magazine will host the U.S. premiere of “12 Years A Slave,” on Tuesday, October 8th at the New York Film Festival. Gavin Smith, New York Film Festival Selection Committee member and Editor-in-Chief of Film Comment Magazine said, “Film Comment is delighted to be able to champion “12 Years A Slave” at the New York Film Festival. This is a powerful work about a subject that remains vital and I have no doubt that it’s one of the year’s most important films.” The 17-day New York Film Festival features top films from celebrated filmmakers as well as fresh new talent. Spike Jonze’s “HER,” starring Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde and Scarlett Johansson will make its World Premiere as the Closing Night Gala presentation for the 51st New York Film Festival. For more information and tickets go to: Filmlinc.com/NYFF.

Marie Moore is a syndicated veteran entertainment journalist who reports on film and TV from her New York City base. Contact her at [email protected]