From Hollywood to Taormina – A week of international cinema atop of the hill

The Taormina Ancient Theatre, location of the Film Festival

The Taormina Ancient Theatre, location of the Film Festival


Once a year since 1955 Hollywood moves to Sicily for a week. The Ancient Theatre of Taormina, atop a hill overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, turns into the setting of one of the most famous film festivals in the world, and the oldest in Italy. The small city of Taormina, crowded with tourists all year round for its beautiful panorama and mild climate, gathers every June international stars and guests from the industry, often taking the occasion for an Italian family-style vacation in the island.
The Festival, promoted by the Taormina Arte Committee and sponsored by the Regional Department of Tourism of Sicily and the Cinema Department of the Ministry of Culture, is now at its 59th edition, and marks the arrival of the new artistic director Mario Sesti. Sesti himself opened the ceremonies on June 15th, remembering other Hollywood icons honored in the past editions: Cary Grant, Marlene Dietrich, Martin Scorsese, and Peter Weir,just to mention a few.  
This year’s opening night was all for an Australian star “adopted” by Hollywood, Russell Crowe. The actor has recently shot Man of Steel, where he interprets Jor-El. With him on stage were Henry Cavill (Clark Kent/Superman in the film), Amy Adams and Michael Shannon, along with director Zack Snyder.
 Henry Cavill and Amy Adams in Taormina for "Man of Steel"

 Henry Cavill and Amy Adams in Taormina for "Man of Steel"

“This is my first time in Sicily, and you are already giving me an award,” said Crowe. “I should come here more often.” The big-budget blockbuster was released in the U.S. on June 14th and it earned $44.1 million in its first night of screening.
Among the 30 films and the several shorts and documentaries that the festival showcased, guests seemed particularly enthusiastic for the return of the 80’s icon Billy Cristal, back on the big screen with Parental Guidance (2012). Old and new generations face to face: a film with some truth and some fun, but not comparable to Cristal’s old comedies.
Gore Verbinksi’s The Lone Ranger was instead the protagonist of the closing night. Disney California Adventure Park in Anaheim was announced to present its world preview at the same time of the Ancient Theatre, but due to the nine hour distance Taormina was officially the first to show the film. The audience seemed a little disappointed though; everyone was expecting the film to be screened in English with Italian subtitles, but a last minute change had it switched into Italian. Dubbing foreign productions is still the standard in Italy, but it’s unusual for world previews.   
Enthusiasm also for the presence of actor Jeremy Irons, at the festival for Candida Brady’s Trashed, a documentary he produced and starred in, about the worldwide problem of waste. Artistic director Mario Sesti called Irons on stage referring to him as “one of the greatest living actors”. And maybe one of most passionate as well, since he not only attended the screening, but also hosted a discussion for students and journalists, before being handed the Taormina Arte Award.
This year’s festival will also be remembered for the unexpected absence of James Gandolfini, who passed away in Rome a few days ago. The actor, mostly known for his part in the TV series The Sopranos, had planned to attend the Taormina Film Festival. He never showed up to receive the Taormina City Prize, along with American actress Marisa Tomei and Italian actor and comedian Gigi Proietti, and so the Festival decided to award him with a special tribute: a montage of his best-known film and TV roles played in front of thousands of spectators at the theatre.
Once again, the Film Festival presented the Humanitarian Taormina Award, this year assigned to Prince Albert of Monaco for its Foundation, whose purpose is to protect the environment and to encourage sustainable development. Last year the award went to Sean Penn and Father Rick Frechette for their help in the reconstruction of Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.  
Another year of good cinema for the “jewel of Sicily”, in the same location where Greeks used to enjoy comedies and tragedies already 2700 years ago. Back then, as well as today, they were surrounded by the same breathtaking scenery. Culture keeps meeting beauty at the Teatro Antico in Taormina.

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