Toronto: Why '12 Years a Slave' Wasn't at Venice

'12 Years a Slave'

Set in the pre-Civil War United States, the film stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt and Chiwetel Ejiofor as a free black man from upstate New York who's abducted and sold into slavery.


Director Steve McQueen argues the film is "an American story," but Venice chief Alberto Barbera was "disappointed not to be able to screen such a powerful film."

Venice Film Festival artistic director Alberto Barbera came out swinging against reports that Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave skipped his festival after demands that 50 people be flown to the Italian city at the festival’s expense were not met. Barbera was quoted in French and Italian newspapers discussing why the film didn’t make the journey to the Lido. He tells THR his quotes were taken out of context.

“It has been brought to my attention that inaccurate quotes attributed to me regarding 12 Years a Slave have appeared in the European media,” Barbera says. “To set the record straight, whilst we were disappointed not to be able to screen such a powerful film in Venice, any suggestion that it was due to costs or the size of the film delegation are wholly inaccurate.”

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The film had been rumored as a possible Venice selection leading up to the festival’s lineup announcement in July. But in the end, it stayed in North America for its world premiere in Toronto and will make its European premiere at the upcoming London Film Festival. But insiders were perplexed by the reports trickling out of Europe and say the Fox Searchlight film declined its invitation to Venice simply for strategic reasons and travel costs were never part of the consideration.

McQueen tells THR that for this particular film, a North American premiere made more sense. “Given 12 Years a Slave is an American story, my intention was always to hold the world premiere in North America,” the director says. “We’ve been thrilled to be a part of both the Telluride and Toronto film festivals, and look forward to our European gala premiere at the London Film Festival next month.”

Eric J. Lyman in Rome contributed to this report.