'12 Years a Slave' wins top prize at Toronto film fest

Sun Sep 15, 2013 4:40pm EDT
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By Cameron French

TORONTO (Reuters) - "12 Years a Slave," the true story of a free black man sold into slavery in 1840s Louisiana, won the top prize at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sunday.

The film, by "Shame" director Steve McQueen and starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, took home the BlackBerry People's Choice award for best film at the 38th edition of the festival.

Based on the 1853 memoir of Solomon Northup, the film has won widespread acclaim from critics and audiences in both Toronto and at the Telluride Film Festival, and has been touted as a top early contender for Oscars.

The Toronto award, which has in the past gone to Oscar best picture winners such as "The King's Speech" and "Slumdog Millionaire," and last year went to multiple winner "Silver Linings Playbook," will likely only increase the buzz around the film.

"It was just one of those stories that I felt needed to be told," McQueen, who like Ejiofor hails from Britain, told Reuters last week.

"The reason I got into the idea of the free man is that you could identify with him. ... When he is captured and put into slavery, you go on this journey with him," he said.

The runner-up for the prize, which is selected by festival audiences, was Stephen Frears' "Philomena," which stars Judi Dench as an Irish woman searching for the son she was forced by nuns to give up in the 1950s.

The People's Choice award for top documentary went to Jehane Noujaim's "The Square," which follows activists in Cairo's Tahrir Square in the wake of the 2011 overthrow of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.   Continued...

Actor Michael Fassbender (R) and director Steve McQueen attend a news conference for the film "12 Years A Slave" at the 38th Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto, September 7, 2013. REUTERS/Fred Thornhill