The Taormina Film Festival between pop, glamour and Mediterranean identity


By John

From action adventure to psychological thriller, from horror to romantic comedy and the many faces of a Sicilian cinema that advances at 360 degrees: these are just some of the threads that the Director of the Taormina Film Festival, Marco Müllerhas chosen to intertwine in conceiving a program that is capable of satisfying all types of audiences, from fans of pop blockbusters to Italian cinema, under the stars of the Ancient Theater.

A Festival that opens on Friday 12 July with a special event of the Nastri d’Argento to celebrate the 70th anniversary with a tribute to Italian comedy: great protagonists Christian De Sica, Carlo Verdone and many others. Many international guests, including Sharon Stone, Nicolas Cage, Bella Thorne, Rebecca De Mornayjust to name a few.

The heart of the Taormina Film Festival is the Gala which will host 7 titles every evening at the Teatro Anticoincluding 4 world premieres and a special focus on young cinema with first and second works. It starts on July 13 with the American horror film Saint Clare by Mitzi Peirone with Bella Thorne, Rebecca De Mornay and Ryan Philippe, to continue with the overwhelming action movie Twisters by Lee Isaac Chung starring Daisy Jessica Edgar-Jones. And then the psychological thriller The Surfer by Lorcan Finnegan with Nicolas Cage; The Judge and the Boss, which Placido Rizzotto’s director, Pasquale Scimeca, dedicates to the memory of an anti-mafia hero like Cesare Terranova; and a triptych of romcoms with the British-Icelandic Touch, directed by the famous director Baltasar Kormákur and starring the very popular Japanese model and singer Kôki, and the two Italians

L’invenzione di noi due by Corrado Ceron with Lino Guanciale, Silvia D’Amico and Paolo Rossi and Finché notte non ci separi by Riccardo Antonaroli starring Pilar Fogliati, Filippo Scicchitano, Valeria Bilello, which closes the festival. Central to the Palazzo dei Congressi’s programming is the FOCUS MEDITERRANEO, which allows the festival to open up to the world and enter into its most burning contradictions, starting with the international premiere of From Ground Zero, the collective film coordinated by Rashid Masharawi that presents the “tale of untold stories” signed by 22 young Palestinian filmmakers who filmed daily life in Gaza. The master of Israeli cinema Amos Gitai returns to Taormina with Shikun, a compendium of his cinema and his vision of the country’s contradictions, while in To A Land Unknown, Mahdi Fleifel delves into the world of illegal Arab immigrants in EU countries. Two great French authors are hosted by the Focus Mediterraneo: the international premiere of the full version of Va savoir by Jacques Rivette, the Pirandello film starring Sergio Castellitto, who will introduce the screening, and the world premiere of Filmlovers! by Arnaud Desplechin, the English-language version of Spectateurs, the film in which the French director celebrated the magic of cinema seen in theaters. Fresh from his Hollywood successes, the Chilean-Swedish director Daniel Espinosa sets the story of a human trafficker in his brand new Madame Luna in Southern Italy, while Thierry de Peretti with his A son image returns to his native Corsica to tell the political turmoil of the island from the late 1970s onwards through the life, friendships and loves of a young photographer. Also at the Palazzo dei Congressi, a special space is dedicated to OFFICINA SICILIA, in which different souls coexist. First of all, the spectacle of the most recent series made in Sicily through the most significant moments, starting from L’arte della gioia by Valeria Golino with Tecla Insolia, Jasmine Trinca, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi (in its dazzling cinematic version); Vanina – A Deputy Police Commissioner in Catania by Davide Marengo with Giusy Buscemi; the first episodes, directed by Piero Messina, of L’ora – Inchiostro contro piombo; and the apocalyptic Sicily of Anna by Niccolò Ammaniti. Alongside this panorama, a formidable quintet of world premieres (four first works and a second work) reminds us that Sicily is a laboratory of ever-renewed experiences that push its cinema forward but at 360 degrees: Quir by Nicola Bellucci, The Mouth of the Soul by Giuseppe Carleo, Three Infallible Rules by Marco Gianfreda, Mother Stone by Daniele Greco and Mauro Maugeri and The Thief of Shooting Stars by Francisco Saia.

Even established Sicilian authors have wanted to open up to new experiments, such as Tony Sperandeo’s free-jazz interpretation in Aurelio Grimaldi’s new film, La rieducazione, another world premiere. OFFICINA SICILIA is enriched by a subsection of rediscovered Sicilian cinema, entitled IERI OGGI DOMANI, which aims to recover the most daring works of the past that announced the cinema of today and that of the future, ranging from a tribute to the legendary Panaria Film, founded in 1947 by Prince Francesco Alliata di Villafranca, of which some of the most important productions will be presented (screening of the restored films): from the daring documentary shorts to the two different versions, in language and editing, of Vulcano and Volcano (1952) by William Dieterle. Alongside the revival of works by the most surprising directors on the East Coast, such as Maria Arena and the Catania collective canecapovolto, Sicilian cinema poised between fiction and documentary is explored through the auteur production of Costanza Quatriglio and the works of young documentary makers from the CSC – Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia in Palermo. Particularly valuable is the last of the non-fiction films on the programme, Diario di Guttuso, a mosaic-itinerary that reconstructs Guttuso’s life through friendly places and paintings, a television work from 1982 that already announces the very personal style of Oscar winner Giuseppe Tornatore. The festival wants to pay homage to one of the courageous protagonists of cinema made by those who want to “stay in the South”, the producer Gaetano Di Vaio, who recently passed away: Largo Baracche, a documentary that Di Vaio himself shot just ten years ago on the kids from “Napoli di Gomorra” and Tre regole infallibili by Marco Gianfreda, the last film that Di Vaio had produced with his Bronx Film. To enrich the offer of the Taormina Film Festival 70, the history of the festival brings us two gifts: the amazing unmissable monologue interpreted by Toni Servillo from the second work by Mario Martone, the medium-length film Rasoi, and the 4K restoration of Picnic at Hanging Rock, the masterpiece that imposed the Australian director Peter Weir in Taormina almost 50 years ago. For this edition, the eight-time director of the Venice Film Festival has created a program with a broad cultural and geographical spectrum, not just cinema.

Thanks to the commitment of the artistic director of the Taormina Arte Sicilia Foundation, Gianna Fratta, an internationally renowned artist, a parallel initiative is running alongside the film festival: PROIEZIONI – Suoni e parole prima del film, a performative format combining music, theater and multimedia events that offers, before the screenings at the Teatro Antico, shows related to the world of cinema. In particular, the screening of the documentary La Montagne Infidèle by Jean Epstein with live musical commentary by pianist Omar Sosa; the concert for the centenary of Giacomo Puccini’s death Tosca – Il ricatto sesso, in which arias, duets and ensemble pieces from Puccini’s masterpiece alternate with the story of the opera told by Gianna Fratta herself; Veniamo a quel paese, the performance of the soundtracks that Carlo Crivelli composed for the films of Ficarra and Picone, who will participate in the event; Celluloid Notes, a tribute that the Ensemble “Suoni del Sud” pays to the best of cinema music, performing masterpieces by Nino Rota, Ennio Morricone, Nicola Piovani, Piero Piccioni. Finally, the theatrical show L’amore segreto di Ofelia by Steven Berkoff with Chiara Francini and Andrea Argentieri and also a tribute to Maria Callas, Vissi d’arte. Vissi per Maria, which will take place between the Villa Comunale of Taormina and the Teatro Antico. 2024 marks a turning point for the festival.