An Ancient Italian Setting for a Very Modern Film Festival

The ancient Greek theater is what sets Taormina's annual film festival apart, as it provides a location like no other

The ancient Greek theater is what sets Taormina's annual film festival apart, as it provides a location like no other

It doesn’t take long in Los Angeles to notice the extent to which Hollywood enjoys recreating foreign cultures to showcase its finest art forms.  From the Chinese and Egyptian Theaters on Hollywood Boulevard to the Greek Theater in Griffith Park, different continents are imaginatively called upon as platforms for music, film and the arts. 
However, Taormina, the small town in eastern Sicily does not require artifice to house world-class cinema. The secret lays within the ruined walls of il Teatro antico a 2,700 year old ancient Greek amphitheater, that will host the commune’s 61st film festival this year from June 13th – June 20th. 
This ancient Greek theater is what sets Taormina’s annual film festival apart, as it provides a location like no other. A place that once featured masked actors in Greek tragedies, gladiators and wrestlers; it now features 3D and CGI entertainment on a large screen. 
Overlooking Mount Etna and the Ionian sea, the giant open-air theater is a breathtaking arena of beauty. Tiziana Rocca, the general manager and Roman publicity guru for TFF, describes passionately, ‘It’s hypnotic…to be watching a movie on an amazing 70-metre screen with a volcano behind you, sitting under the sky. It’s hypnotic because it really is something new. It’s a location like no other.’ 
Affectionately known as ‘il cuore pulsante di Taormina’ the crumbling columns and mossy seats of l’antico Teatro can hold up to 5,000 people. It is therefore no surprise that Oscar-winning actors like Patricia Arquette are drawn from all corners of the globe to attend Italy’s iconic film festival which dates back to 1955. 
Italy is a country that should be known as much for its cinema as it is for its wine, cuisine and architecture. Before the Best Foreign Film category even existed at the Academy Awards, the neorealist fathers De Sica and Fellini were receiving honorary awards for their epic post-war creations, Sciuscià, and Ladri di biciclette. Since then, Italy has received more Oscars for Best Foreign Film than any other country, and the TFF is further enabling Italy to positively impact international cinema. 
Tiziana Rocca’s vision for the festival is as much about celebrating new and innovative Hollywood films as sharing the old, the traditional, the true cinema of Italy and Sicily. She seeks to combine Hollywood glamor with Italian history as well as giving Italy the opportunity to share its cinema beyond its own borders, and hopes that Taormina film festival will become in her own words ‘il volano per la cultura e il made in Italy e allo stesso tempo [riportando] star e major hollywodiani nel nostro paese.’ 
For one week, antiquity shall meet with modernity as Disney Pixar’s 3D animation, Inside Out and the $150m mega movie Jurassic World headline the festival. Without a doubt, there is no better place to watch Triassic creatures charging around than inside the ruins of this amphitheater, carved out of Mount Tauro by Greeks in the third century B.C. If there are any lapses of attention to be had, rather than casually checking ones iPhone, one can stare out at the Sicilian stars and behold the ancient landscape that naturally transcends any man-made Hollywood frescos or backdrops.
Instead of the stars on the Hollywood walk of fame, visitors to Taormina will walk over ancient cobbled streets, that writers throughout the ages have praised; Goethe fondly described Taormina as a patch of paradise on earth: ‘un lembo di paradiso sulla terra.’ 
The Starbucks coffee houses and vendors selling Hollywood tours are a far cry from Corso Umberto where you can call into a local café and pick up a schiciatella or dine at a family owned osteria to sample volcanic wine and freshly caught swordfish pasta. 
History, culture and fine food all go into making the Taormina Film Festival a unique experience for those fortunate enough to attend this month. But fear not, the festival is on its way to the United States, as TFF will be coming to LA in January 2016 as part of a collaboration with the Italian Institute of Culture in Los Angeles. Although Hellenistic ruins won’t surround audiences in LA, the ancient spirit of Sicily will be ever present as TFF brings independent Italian and Sicilian films to the West Coast of America. 
Dr. Valeria Rumori, the Director of the IICLA has worked hard with Tiziana Rocca to put together an exciting and eclectic program for next year’s partnership. 
“It will certainly be a great opportunity for the promotion of Italian cinema in the US, particularly for small independent productions, to which this Institute pays particular attention, and will also be an opportunity to learn about the Sicilian culture through exhibitions and special events.” Dr. Valeria remarked.
The remarkable Tiziana Rocca sums it up thus; ‘There is so much passion and energy in the Taormina Film Festival… that goes into promoting the beautiful things of our beloved Italy and Sicily. Love for cinema, beauty, art, young people, that is…love for life.’
It is the constant importation and exportation of culture, the mixing of the old and the new, the ancient with the modern that keeps culture alive, and Taormina’s Film Festival is doing exactly that. It’s not to be missed.
Vi aspettiamo numerosi! 

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