10th May2014

12 Years a Slave – DVD

by timbaros

images-57In 1853, Solomon Northup wrote an autobiography called 12 Years a Slave, 160 years later it has been turned into a film with the same name, and is one of the best films of the year, and is now out on DVD.

Directed by British Director Steve McQueen (Shame), 12 Years a Slave tells Northrup’s true story of his kidnapping in Washington D.C. in 1841 and sold into slavery, a time when blacks in the United States were commonly and legally treated as slaves. Chiwitel Ejiofor plays Northrup, a skilled carpenter and a free black family man with two children living in upstate New York. One evening he meets two men, they start drinking, one of them drugs his drink, and then he wakes up and realizes that he is going to be sold into slavery. He protests, telling all around him that he is a free man, unfortunately his papers are at his home, so of course no one believes him. So this begins his time as a slave for 12 years, which would see him being shipped to Louisiana, going from one owner to another, and from one who is kind to one who is brutal. What he has to endure in these 12 years is enough to break any man down, but Northrup doesn’t give up.
Northrup is initially ‘bought’ by William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch), a well-meaning but clueless plantation owner. But things get worse for Northrup. He is sold to the brutalistic and cruel Edwin Epps (an excellent Michael Fassbender, who is a shoo-in for Best Supporting Actor) and his passive wife (Sarah Paulson). Epps is aggressive with his slaves, literally treats them like dirt, and punishes them when he is in a bad mood. In one brutal scene, Northrup is hung from a tree as punishment for fighting an overseer, with his feet barely touching the ground, enough to allow him not to hang himself, and he hangs there from morning to dusk, while the other slaves around him go about their work, and children play in the background. The look on Ejiofor’s Northrup conveys an image of a man who has given up hope to escape and who is now focused merely on survival. In another brutal scene that is possibly one of the most harrowing film scenes in recent memory (and one that will make you turn away), Epps punishes slave Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o – sure to receive the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance in this movie), who had only briefly disappeared from the plantation to get a bar of soap. Egged on by his wife who knows that Ebbs has been sleeping (raping her) with her, Ebbs orders Northrup to lash Patsey as hard as he can, Northrup can only manage a few strokes when Ebbs takes over and savagely lashes her. It is a scene that was shot in real time, lasts only a few minutes, but feels much longer. Ebbs is in love with her but doesn’t know why he is in love with a slave, so he tries to destroy her.
Brad Pitt shows up near the end of the film (he is also a producer of the film) who has cast himself as a sort of Northrup’s savior, a Canadian labourer who listens to his story and then promises him that he will attempt to help him. It is Brad Pitt, while in a small role, is Brad Pitt – it is a bit distracting when he all of a sudden shows up.
Ejiofor, a British film, television and theatre actor, has either won or is nominated for Best Actor for his work in this film by over 40 critics organizations, including being nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor, and winning Best Actor by organizations such as the Boston Society of Film Critics to the Women Film Critics Circle Award. Ejiofor, previously seen in American Gangster, 2012 and Salt, outacts his fellow black actors from this season’s films: Forest Whitaker of The Butler and Idris Elba of Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom. Fassbender, and especially Nyong’o, deserve every award they will receive. 12 Years a Slave has just been nominated for 11 BAFTA’s, including nominations for Ejiofor, Fassbender and Nyong’o.
The stories of these slaves being beaten, raped, and tortured are told by McQueen’s detailed and controlled direction. How did McQueen find this story to tell? His wife is a historian and she recommended that he look into true accounts of slavery, she then found this book, and he said that he had to do it. It is a film where each performance is excellent, every scene has impact, and is emotional from the beginning to the very end.
Ejiofor recently told Vanity Fair Magazine that “I remember it (the book) and and being amazed by the story, and also realizing that it was quite daunting to step into something like that.” Yes, the film is quite daunting, but it is all the more daunting when you remember that this is the true life story of a man who lost 12 years of his life, and being away for 12 years from his family and home.


12th Jan2014

12 Years a Slave – Press Conference – Film

by timbaros
IMG_3720Mayfair Hotel – London:
Director Steve McQueen:
There were sequences that were technical, there were sequences obviously that were emotional, but in a way there was, just, the level, the focus of the film for me the focus of the film was on Solomon Northrup, trying to connect as much as I could to his journey, his character. Part of that which was in his biography, and so was a lot of clues there to very specific characteristics. In some of the things that he endured you knoe I was able to then to sort of try to connect in any way that I could to how he may have felt, and that was a real privilege in a way. To feel a sense of any kind of connection to what he went through we were trying to do some of the sequences as close as we possibly do to what he describes in the book. So that felt in a way emotional, also, and it connected to his experience connected to him.
Actor Chiwotel Ejiofor:
There were times when it was emotional, impactful but I think what we had was a wonderful crew. The support from the crew as said before, makeup, wardrobe, hair, all of the other departments, gaffers, electricians, grips, all these all of us came together and it was our film. So that kind of support, structure, that kind of collaborators, that kind of family, everyone having had a role in the film, a stake in the film, it was the support that was how and the actors would sort of go there, as it were, to to to to risk and to try and to fail and go for it, whatever it is there trying to go for it, there were no restrictions there was friendship and that behind allowed that to happen, it was beautiful, we would go out together, we would eat together, it was wonderful. It was a great time, a great time. Great memory.
Q: On some levels it feels like a very American story, obviously it’s a huge story but its an American story. How do you approach it to a London voice? Were among friends so you can speak freely.

It’s It’s a world story. It’s a world story. It’s not necessarily an American story as such. It take places in the United States but its a world story because its about slavery, slavery was a world issue as such. I chose to adapt this story before the researching those stories at that time and this that’s the story that struck me…Solomon Northrup’s story. And as I said before, I couldn’t really have come come across this story or book before. I couldn’t believe it, I felt very stupid but then I realized that no one else had. It was all about the narrative in the story and whereever it took place in the world it didn’t really matter. It was about something I wanted to talk about, which was slavery.
It was me who felt that there was a kind of I mean by definition there is an international element to it. Even an American one which is slavery you kind of have always an international idea of this thing, and so as I learned about it, thats the way in which learned about it, you know I learned about in terms of in terms of Africa, in terms of West Indies, in terms of Britain, in terms of America, so and South America and so I always had that in my head, I felt like it was a very American story, absolutely, but I felt that there was something correct about an international one in a way, even though 97% of the people who were involved in this movie who made this movie are Americans but there was an element of something international about it which I felt reflected something about the international nature of this event, this world event.
Q: Congratulations on an extraordinary film. I hope you don’t mind me saying it but I’m not sure I could watch it again because there were quite some difficult scenes. I mean were you well worried that you were going to far or were you worried that maybe you didn’t go far enough in some of the scenes.
If I was to make the book, you know, that that that was extreme, the book is extreme. But you know, my responsibility is this, do I make a film about slavery or not. I decided that I wanted to make a film about slavery, and if you make a film about slavery you have to have to understand how people were incarcerated in a way, sorry incarcerated, I mean in bondage, it was how it was for years, mental, physical, torture in a way, and you know it’s a world event, it’s a huge whole kind of film it’s sometime a huge whole in people’s minds that they don’t want to think about it in order to bring it to the form, plus remember, I as an individual am sitting here today, I’m here as an individual because some friends of my family went through slavery, fact, as to be respected.
Tim Baros question:
This question is for Chiwotel – how to do you pronounce your name, because I don’t know how to pronounce it. Also, this question is for Steve McQueen: Can you explain the audition process? How Mr. Ejiofor got the role and the rest of the cast as well.
It was a big cast so I will just do Chiwotel. I knew Chiwotel from before and as far as I was concerned as in the book there was only actor who could play it – Chiwotel – as I said before he had the same kind of stature, the craft, the thing that was do to him which I which I knew was sorely needed to be portrayed in that way, that was Solomon Northrup and you know Chiwotel is such a great actor. He reminds me of Harry Belafonte, same person, same kind of stature so to translate on screen. That’s that’s that’s the sentence – that translate on screen. and That’s why I chose him – he was one in a million.
Q: In relation to that your relationship then with Michael Fassbender and obviously a very close relationship with each other can you expand a little bit on how you work together and how well you work together and also the comments I the last few days that Michael said he wouldn’t play the Oscar game as there is talk of Oscar nominations I just wondered how you felt about that and about the idea of his Oscar game.
I really wanted to go back obviously about that, since 2007 when I first met him when I auditioned for Hunger, obviously our relationship is a good one and which has blossomed into something which is, uh, I value it more than other things know, I value it tremendously. He’s an artist, he’s an artist, again, he’s a force to be reckoned with. There’s some kind of magic he has. He’s a clever guy. He has some kind of spirit, as far as campaigning or not campaigning, his campaign is on the screen. His Oscar campaign, that’s it.
Q: I’ve got a question for Steve. I really like the music used in the film, Hans Zimmer is one of the biggest composers right now, he’s done everything from Pirates to Kung Fu Panda. I wondered why he was chosen to write the music for the film and the process he went through to get the right score you’ve got in your head.
I just rang him up, as you do. To come and chat before about Hunger, and I range him up Hans and said to him and said Han, listen, I’m doing this film, and there’s no money, and ‘Steve I was thrown the world’ oh god he says that and he was basically making Superman at the time he said I was thrown the world and I said Hans is it possible to think about this idea, and he said I will do it, I will do it, and that’s it, that was it. I said thank you, kindly. and from there it was casual, he is a very interesting Hans is a fantastic guy, everyone seems to be fantastic but guess what I choose wisely, um to me he’s just a fantastic guy. We had two conversations for five hours at his place, and then two others conversations for 3 hours on the phone, seriously, and then i came to his studio and he does this – ping – oh wow, it was all that conversations that took a couple of notes. So he has to be submerged in the narrative so he comes out in another world translates in it in sound first kind of focus concentrate on Hans Zimmer and he’s a good guy.
Q: Solomon comes through as very striking, he’s not a symbol. He’s a character. He’s an individual. How do you go about developing that kind of characterization?
McQueen: Well actually it took, you know it didn’t come as easily to me that easily to me, when I first read the script I definitely saw the story of a man going through extraordinary circumstance, I didn’t necessarily see Solomon until that first time, it wasn’t actually until I read the book and then went back to the script and then I suddenly realized you know because obviously in a way that I realized it is actually the story of Solomon Northrup and my responsibility was to simply tell his story, I’d seen it initially as a kind of telling the story and feeling the responsibility of telling the story about a slave experience or something, telling one of the few stories I think not one of the only stories in cinema from inside the slave experience. So that was a bit of a hurdle to me trying to get my head around how to tell a story of why through this one person, of course these things you realize don’t have to do that, you don’t have to do that tell the whole story of slavery somehow. But, uh, just the story of Solomon Northrup and so the book was very revealing in terms of his character and I realized he is his world view and the way we approach the world and the way you approach the people, the way you approach these circumstances was remarkable, actually.  Because of his..I I tried to work out exactly what his specific characteristics are but I think the main thing to do was the story reflex of survival and love of life as well as an absence of hatred that he utilizes, that he is able to continue through this system as he gets rid of anything that is not useful to his survival, both physically and mentally, and its an extraordinary pairing down of all those elements to navigate.
Q: We talked a bit of the uncomfortable moment in the film, were there moments when you first read the book where you were concerned about going through with you mentioned before about actors doing the job were there in the same sort of way, were there any scenes where you were concerned for your actors.
Ejiofor: Well it was me when I first read it I was stunned by it you know and I just thought as a piece you’re going to have to just trust it you know as an actor you’re going to just have to slip out grab a hold and see what happens. You know because uh there’s just no there’s just no other way of telling the story. You know and I it’s not like I wasn’t aware of Steve and his films you know what I mean so I you know you know so you I knew that he would go to all the places that you’d have to go to and that and that’s what I wanted, to tell this story, I just thought it’s the only way I mean sort of it’s about something we were talking about earlier, in a way you can’t tell a story about slavery unless your tell it. and that’s it, and so you’re going to have to its like you know people talk about violence and stuff but you its a weird one because its a strange handicap if you’re not you cannot talk about violence in a film about slavery. You’re not going to do justice for the other people involved. You’re not certainly not going to do justice to Solomon Northrup and what he went through, you know. It’s ah, you know it like going on about the second world war or something you can’t shoot anybody, you know it’s not you can’t tell these stories without major parts of what they are and I and I read that and I read and I read into that you know I read into the script and there was obviously going to be these sort of struggles that he went through and I was I wanted to embrace that. I was excited about it.
Q: I’ m Brazilian so I know about slavery. I wanted to ask Steve now that he has done such good movies was it difficult to get money from American industry as a black man?
McQueen: No it wasn’t, it wasn’t at all. I think Plan B, the production company behind me, was very supportive and got extra support for it. Great people. Fox Searchlight. our Producer, and a group of people got together to make the film, they believed in me, and they believed in the subject. And it wasn’t as difficult as many people could have thought.
Q: I was wondering when you approach this role in your mind, how do you go about ensuring the audience stays engaged and attached to the character when essentially he’s actually becoming more introvert and hardship until the final scenes?
Ejiofor: I think because when I you know I had a very, when I first read the screenplay and read the book I had a very submersive experience with it, which was I just felt like I was reading like I was observing like I was reading a book and reading a script and at a certain point I don’t know exactly when that is it was like I was inside the experience , you know, something that happened to him or whatever I would feel like I was experiencing emotionally connected and I felt that there was something about it that is very immersive very immediately submersive because I suppose in a way we could all relate to that or more easily understand some of the some of the sense of just being ripped away from everything that you called dear and than put in this kind of Alice in Wonderland slipped down the rabbit onto this kind of universe he is sort of walking through and I felt that the power of that could be conveyed in any meaning and that’s why it is such a strong book and such a strong screenplays because that’s what Solomon relates to is what something that people quickly get on board with quite quickly understand so I I wasn’t worried about that in the end, and so I didn’t feel like it was my job to ah to try and carry the end through it which I thought might’ve been interrupting. I just felt that if I kept close to Solomon, and told his story, that I kind of trusted in the narrative, of course I trusted in Steve, you know, and I felt that that was the way that people could connect to it.