How Tiziana Rocca brought the Taormina Film Fest to Los Angeles

Tiziana Rocca, General Manager of TFF, and actor Richard Gere. Photo courtesy of T. Rocca

Tiziana Rocca, General Manager of TFF, and actor Richard Gere. Photo courtesy of T. Rocca

Tiziana Rocca, general manager of the Taormina Film Fest since 2012, has been largely innovating the historic Sicilian festival, founded in 1955.
Her main concerns are to celebrate and foster Italian young talents, as well as to assure female filmmakers of an equal visibility as their male counterparts. 
 
The countdown is running fast, as Mrs. Rocca is going to launch the first edition of the TaorminaFilmFest@LosAngeles, on January 20 at the Italian Cultural Institute of L.A.
 
Tiziana, thanks to the precious collaboration with the IIC, the Consulate General of Italy, in L.A., and the ICE - Italian Trade Promotion Agency, have filled a gap in the local offer of entertainment, by organizing this noteworthy showcase of the very best Italian, and especially Sicilian independent cinema.  
On the occasion of this much anticipated first edition in L.A., Rocca is going to announce officially the dates for the 2016 Taormina Film Fest, which will be hosted in the same marvelous ancient Greek theater in Taormina, from June 10 to the 18.  
The General Consul of Italy in L.A. is going to make it official, by honoring the TaorminaFilm Fest@ LosAngeles with an award, conferred to Tiziana Rocca by the Councilman, Joe Buscaino. 
 
We from L’Italo-Americano warmly wish Tiziana’s brainchild to catch on fast in L.A.
 
What’s your cultural background? Was there a specific moment of realization, in which you decided to join the entertainment business?
For twenty-five years, I’ve been working in the entertainment business. I was a pioneer in my field, having become the first female events’ manager in Italy. 
Today, I believe that in order to organize a festival, you need to be an “entertainment manager”, able to find a balance between quality and glamour. The Cannes Film Festival remains the ideal model to look after.
At Taormina Film Fest, we focus on young, emergent talent. We want to recognize the new media, which are quickly changing the ways of telling stories. Our festival was the first in Italy to award the best web series. 
To put together a successful festival, it’s essential to take some risks, by welcoming innovative formulas along with the not yet established filmmakers.

Tiziana Rocca, General Manager of TFF, and Sue Kroll, President, Worldwide Marketing and Distribution for Warner Bros. Photo courtesy of T. Rocca

What was your experience as film festival attendee like, before taking up your managerial position?
I particularly love the Venice Film Festival. Its current director, Alberto Barbera, hosts a special award conferred to female filmmakers, in partnership with the Taormina Film Fest. 
Over the years, I’ve been a regular at the prestigious Venetian competition. However, in the past, my focus was on the publicity and marketing side of the movie industry.
Nowadays, film festivals are not funded by the State any longer, but financed by sponsors. It’s necessary to increase the event’s visibility and appeal, in order to secure those private resources. Certainly not an easy task, but the Taormina Film Fest’s revitalized success shows that it’s feasible.
A strong evidence is offered by the fact that major US movie studios, which for long time didn’t take part to our event, have been coming back in these past four years.
One of our main objectives, by partnering with several institutions, is to fight the typical Italian summer slump and to expand Italy’s film distribution to summer, like it normally occurs in the US. 
 
On the Taormina Film Fest’s official website - as you refer to Italian actress/filmmaker Asia Argento, who “godmothered” last edition – you state: “Having such a strong, brave and fierce woman as godmother of a Festival that has always placed particular attention towards the female universe is a matter of pride for us.” Isn’t that a paradox how this remarkable tradition take place in such a backward-looking region, like Sicily?
I have never thought in these terms, but times have changed in Sicily as well. Now women are liberated in Southern Italy and, often, eager to come out on top, before raising their own families.
As a woman, I’ve always intended to represent female filmmakers, in the fairest way possible. I’m glad that several worldwide festivals are doing the same, more and more.
Another matter of pride to me, is how our festival gives particular attention to philanthropic causes, by also conferring the Taormina Humanitarian Award upon the most remarkable personalities, operating in this field.
Last in a long series of recipients, actress Rosario Dawson, who, in the last edition, gave voice to the female victims of domestic violence in Africa. 
The 2015 Taormina Film Fest showcased also a new app, which enables the blind to be more engaged, in the fruition of the movies. 
 
In the Taormina Film Fest’s past edition, a brand new “USA Day” was introduced in the calendar. What was that about?
In partnership with the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the Italian Association of Film Industries (ANICA) and the U.S. Embassy, we hosted a networking day, during which Italian and American indie producers could meet and, possibly, further collaborations. 
The event served also to promote all the benefits, offered by Sicily, and Italy in general, as filming locations.
Due to the USA Day’s large success, we’re going to repeat it again in the next edition.
 
Reveal us more about what we are going to see, at this first edition of the TaorminaFilmFest@LosAngeles. How do you envision the expansion of Italian Cinema abroad?
We are going to kick off our first edition with the solo exhibition, Phil Stern. Welcome back to Sicily, a real tribute to the WWII war photographer, who followed the US troops to document the liberation of the Italian island.
Alongside a collection of photographs by Carmelo Nicosia, we are going to screen the documentary Phil Stern. Sicily 1943. The War and The Soul (Sicilia 1943. La guerra e l’anima) by Ezio Costanzo and Filippo Arlotta.
Essential part of my “mission” is to showcase the first and second placed among the young documentary filmmakers from Sicily, Elio Sofia and Francesco Cannavà, with the auspice of initiating their international collaboration.
 
Italian actress, Valeria Golino - awarded with the prestigious Coppa Volpi, during last Venice Film Festival – is going to be the recipient of the TaorminaFilmFest@LosAngeles Award, sponsored by our main media partner, Variety. 
As far as the expansion of our movies abroad, there has been already a considerable number of  noteworthy initiatives in L.A. - like Cinema Italian Style, coproduced by Luce Cinecittà – which have been screening the very best of our cinema.  
Recently, Italian top directors, the likes of Matteo Garrone and Paolo Sorrentino, but also a veteran like Giuseppe Tornatore, have been successfully casting international actors. 
 
Films, such as 2014 Oscar winner The Great Beauty but also the latest Agent 007’s Spectre (2015) – partly shot in Rome – are drawing attention to the capital as well as other Italian cities as ideal locations. 
It’s essential to showcase our films to US indie producers, as a way to promote Italian cinema and foster co-productions.
 
In conclusion, what do you like about L.A.?
I’ve been coming here for many years and I love it. Lots of my friends live here. Los Angeles is like a second home to me.
I strongly wanted to create this “bridge” between Taormina and L.A. 
Taormina Film Fest in L.A. is going to last longer in the next editions and I will always keep a prolific exchange between Sicily and L.A.  

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