BY Franco Cicero

Taormina: the gaze runs from the inviting sea to the imposing Etna, as on a natural large screen in Cinemascope. The link between Taormina and cinema is innate: at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, almost coinciding with the invention of the Lumière brothers, Taormina became the elective homeland of Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden, who left a suggestive visual legacy of photographs and postcards depicting young Sicilians dressed up as gods of Olympus (proverbial place for the Tenth Muse) with resplendent panoramas in the background: his studio was visited, among others, by Oscar Wilde, Gabriele D’Annunzio, Eleonora Duse. And thanks to his images, an illustrious series of personalities wanted to see the “Pearl of the Ionian” live, helping to create a legend that continues: from the German emperor William II to David H. Lawrence, from Tennessee Williams to Greta Garbo, the “Divine”, the first world cinema star to love and often visit – incognito – Taormina.

In 1955 a film festival was born in Messina and quickly Taormina became its fundamental and ideal venue – with the complicity of the unrepeatable scenario of the Ancient Theater – for directors, actors, producers, distributors who can find an important meeting point.
Years ago, on the Croisette in Cannes, Peter Fonda and Terence Stamp remembered meeting during the 1965 Taormina Film Festival. Peter Fonda loved basking in the sun, playing his guitar on the beach a stone’s throw from Isola Bella: he had come to meet Federico Fellini and discuss a project, what two years later would have been the episode “Toby Dammit” in “Tre passi nel delirio”. The role instead fell to Terence Stamp, who became a great friend of Peter Fonda thanks to that summer in Taormina: the two promised to work together and they succeeded, 34 years later, in Steven Soderbergh’s film “The Limey”.

Another famous promise, later kept, was that of Woody Allen. Invited out of competition to the 1971 Taormina Festival with “The Dictator of the Free State of Bananas”, the then unknown Woody Allen was struck by the beauty of the Ancient Theater and pledged to want it as a set, “betraying” his favorite Manhattan. Which promptly happened, more than twenty years later, with “The goddess of love” (played by Mira Sorvino, later also a guest in Taormina): a privilege, more unique than rare, of having the Ancient Theater as a setting perfect for the Seventh Art in which to shoot the Greek chorus sequences led in the film by F. Murray Abraham.

Nor should we forget Roberto Benigni, unleashed animator – Oscar winner for his sympathy – in ’79 of a “minor” edition of the Festival, who then wanted to return to Taormina with Walter Matthau for the filming of the “Little Devil” and again, in hinterland, to make “Johnny Stecchino”.

There are also those who have taken the opposite path: Michelangelo Antonioni entrusted Taormina scenery, from the Hotel San Domenico to the bay of Naxos in the background, with the conclusion of one of his masterpieces, “L’avventura”, shot in 1959 also among the Aeolian, Messina and Noto. Since then Antonioni has always exalted his bond with Sicily and Taormina in particular, assiduously attending the Festival, welcomed with warmth and admiration every time, with particular enthusiasm in ’91 when Bernardo Bertolucci gave him a “golden Charybdis” amid ovations special. An affection that Antonioni also consecrated later by presenting a preview of the short film “Sicilia” in the Ancient Theater.

Even Carlo Verdone, multi-awarded in the Ancient Theater with the Silver Ribbons, wanted to film an episode of his “Grande, grosso e… Verdone” in Taormina in 2007. But even a star of the caliber of Robert De Niro, while he was a guest of honor in Taormina in 2010, accepted the proposal of director Giovanni Veronesi to participate in “Manuale d’amore 3” alongside Monica Bellucci.

Over the course of time, the uniqueness of the Teatro Antico stage has also led to small “miracles”: like seeing Rainer Werner Fassbinder in the 1980s unusually but pleasantly dressed in an impeccable tuxedo; listen with absolute emotion in 1984, during a “Party for the theater”, the “spiritual testament” of Eduardo De Filippo, in his last public appearance, in front of his son Luca; in 1990 applauding together on stage the “5 colonels of the Italian comedy” Monica Vitti, Alberto Sordi, Nino Manfredi, Ugo Tognazzi and Vittorio Gassman; having fun with Pedro Almodovar who improvised himself in ’94 as the perfect host of the FilmFest so much as to welcome his colleague John Waters with a popping kiss; or again at the stroke of midnight between 2 and 3 July 2000 to contemplate the spectators who light up the auditorium with lighted candles to wish a happy birthday to Tom Cruise called to collect a special Silver Ribbon; or getting excited in the Ancient Theater in 2012 metaphorically transformed into a stadium to watch Italy-Germany at the European Championships, with Sophia Loren ready to cheer in the audience.

Perhaps no one could have imagined that the Taormina kermesse would have come a long way. Fashion and culture, worldliness and entertainment, stardom and tourism, social evolution – in the name of cinema – mix in the history of the first 65 years of the International Film Festival launched in Messina in August 1955 by a group of cinephiles (including Arturo Arena , then vice president of the Association of cinematographic exhibitors) with seven films scheduled – to inaugurate was “Green Fire” by Andrew Marton – projected in one of the most enchanting places in the city, the “terrace” on the Strait, in the Fair, of a very famous at the time, the Irrera a mare. The first and only notable presences were the actresses Irene Genna, wife of Amedeo Nazzari, and Brunella Bovo. The simple goal was to create a “Festival of cordiality”, with promotional ambitions. As early as 1956, the management of the Review passed – up until the 1980s – to the Peloritan Provincial Tourist Board, whose president at the time, Michele Ballo, proved to be an impeccable host until 1968, to then delegate the role to Giuseppe Campione, very attentive to youthful and cultural ferments, while from 1972 the Ept president was Eugenio Longo and from 1980 Ermanno Jannuzzi. And in 1956 Gabriella Pallotta and the much better known Sandra Milo were present. From 1957 a clear leap in quality because the Messina projections were joined by Taormina as the venue for the ceremony for the delivery of the David di Donatello awards: Ingrid Bergman’s first major international presence, who enjoyed being filmed by Federico Fellini’s camera, filming it in turn . The David ceremony became a fixed appointment in the Ancient Theater and was renewed until 1980, passing the baton to another great recognition of Italian cinema: the Silver Ribbons of the National Union of Film Journalists – until 1989 and then permanently from 2000 except for a few short breaks – still delivered in Taormina. Among the first famous winners of the Ribbons in the Ancient Theater was Massimo Troisi in 1981. In 1987, Giuseppe Tornatore received the Ribbon as debut director with “Il camorrista”, very excited to receive such an important award (he would win it again many other times ) in his native Sicily. And in that same year a Ribbon to another future Oscar winner, Roberto Benigni, awarded as the protagonist of “Daunbailò”.

For more than ten years the Review continued to be divided between Messina and Taormina: from 1964 the event took place for the first half in the capital, to continue and end in the “Pearl of the Ionian Sea”, which finally became its almost exclusive location. In Messina at the turn of the 1950s and 1960s, summer screenings were transformed into coveted and desired “soirée”. The hunt for the invitation began months in advance, the girls of good families dreamed of the dress they would show off for the occasion, the men put the obligatory tuxedo back on track, or they worked hard to find it for hire. For all the others, like today in Los Angeles or in Cannes or in Venice, the only thing left was to crowd behind the barriers to witness the entry of the luckiest and above all the stars of the big screen.

In Taormina, the glitter of the stars shone for the evening of the Davids, a real “night of the stars” when thousands of spectators who filled the auditorium of the Ancient Theater were called to light the candles distributed at the entrance: a glance to make get the creeps. In 1958, among others, Anna Magnani and Gina Lollobrigida, Sam Spiegel and Tennessee Williams, Vittorio De Sica and Vittorio Gassman were fascinated by it, who in that year was awarded the Olimpo Prize for Theater, the first example of the vocation of Ancient Theater to host every form of great show which would lead, in 1983, with the careful work of the members of the Consultation of experts supported by the Committee, to the establishment of “Taormina Arte” with its divisions which include, in addition to cinema, also theatre, music and the visual arts.

Year after year, none of the stars of the moment, often fresh Oscar winners, has given up attending the “night of the stars”: a phantasmagorical Hollywood cast could be composed for a blockbuster produced by Darryl F. Zanuck, starring Cary Grant, Susan Hayward, Leslie Caron, Van Heflin, Anthony Quinn, Charlton Heston, Anthony Perkins, Audrey Hepburn, Gregory Peck, Linda Christian, Shirley MacLaine, Joan Crawford, Lana Turner, Yul Brynner, Cornel Wilde, John Huston, Cliff Robertson, Rex Harrison, Peter O’Toole, Rita Hayworth, Henry Fonda, Burt Lancaster, Peter Ustinov and many others.

Without neglecting European actors such as Jean-Louis Trintignant, Melina Mercouri, Catherine Spaak, Alain Delon and of course the Italian favorites: Alberto Sordi, several times the protagonist in the Ancient Theater with proverbial impromptu “question and response” with the public, Sophia Loren, Claudia Cardinale, Nino Manfredi, Monica Vitti, Ugo Tognazzi, Giulietta Masina, Marcello Mastroianni, Silvana Mangano, Stefania Sandrelli, Walter Chiari, Renato Rascel, Aldo Fabrizi, Antonella Lualdi, Franco Interlenghi and so on, the directors Mauro Bolognini, Luigi Comencini and Pietro Germi, the producers Carlo Ponti, Dino De Laurentiis and Franco Cristaldi.

Almost all the big names in cinema stopped by for a few days, sometimes just to take part in the grand gala. But not always: Marlene Dietrich, for example, was the exceptional star in Taormina in 1962 when, for a few months and at the limits of legality, a casino was opened in Villa Mon Repos. The stars, and the innumerable surrounding “starlets”, were often called to cross the Ancient Theater on a footbridge – which started from the adjacent Hotel Timeo – along the lower limit of the auditorium in the middle of the crowd, among hundreds of hands who wanted to touch them : a special slide was instead built for Marlene, which brought her, with great effect, to the center of the stage.

The Rassegna had become a corner of the “dolce vita”, complete with local “paparazzi”, whose prince remains the “little” Michelangelo Vizzini, while the beaches of Mazzarò were invaded by foreign beauties, with a bold look and at the time considered unscrupulous. One of the highest points of stardom of those times was reached when Liz Taylor and Richard Burton arrived in Taormina from “Hollywood on the Tiber” in 1967: their eccentricities are still fabled.

Many anecdotes, much emphasis, endless memories bordering on gossip, but little memory in those early years of the Review of films gradually proposed, crushed as they were by worldliness. Thus, the “wind of ’68” which blew – and not always as a consequence – on the destinies of the Review, was inevitable, anticipated by the presence of “committed” authors such as Bernardo Bertolucci, accompanied in ’65 by Adriana Asti, and later Joseph Losey , Gillo Pontecorvo, Sergio Leone, Richard Brooks, Francesco Rosi.

In Messina the screenings were collected in the “New film week”, animated by Sandro Anastasi, which left room for crucial films such as “Antonio das Mortes” by Glauber Rocha, “Easy rider” by Dennis Hopper, “If” by Lindsay Anderson, followed by passionate debates coordinated by the critic Giulio Cesare Castello. It was an opportunity to discover a new cinema and the purely worldly evenings became the subject of disputes, up until their definitive cancellation in 1971.

Things were destined to change in Taormina too: in 1969 the event was renamed “Review for international cinematographic cooperation” with the aim of promoting a cinema with cultural depth and social relevance. And in 1970 the competitive section of the Review was launched, the “Festival of Nations”; first winner of the Golden Charybdis “They don’t kill horses like this?” by Sydney Pollack. The first artistic director of the competitive Festival was Gian Luigi Rondi, only for that year however: the following year he was called to direct the Mostra Venezia (and there will be an encore); the direction was thus entrusted to Guglielmo Biraghi, who influenced – reserving the competition, called the “Taormina International Film Festival” since 1981, to first and second feature films as well as, from 1987 to the new expressive trends of contemporary cinema – in a decisive way the cultural choices of the Rassegna for almost twenty years, until the end of the 1980s, when he too was called to Venice, while Rondi returned to Taormina for a short time.

The history of Taormina is often intertwined with that of Venice: the Sicilian Review is considered in second place, in terms of importance, among the Italian Festivals, immediately after the Exhibition. Three of its artistic directors – Rondi, Biraghi, Laudadio – have directed both Festivals at different times. And in the period in which the competition was suspended in Venice, it was hypothesized that Taormina could have become the “Venice of the South”, the most important national film festival, with the added touch of glamor of the longed-for live television (broadcast regularly, except of 1966, canceled in extremis amidst the controversies) of the “night of the stars”, conducted by great “veterans” of the television screen such as Lello Bersani, Mike Bongiorno and Pippo Baudo.

If sometimes that of Taormina risked being considered the “umbrella festival”, however, year after year, thanks to the “Festival of Nations”, it managed to catalyze attention on important films and authors such as for example – in addition to the aforementioned Woody Allen – Steven Spielberg (“Duel”), Alexander Jodorowsky (“The Holy Mountain”), Theo Anghelopoulos (“The Play”). The German “new wave” of “Neuer Deutscher Film” also arrived, with the first films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Wim Wenders, Werner Herzog, Werner Schroeter. And in two “historic” editions – in ’75 with the victory of “Sunday too far away” by Ken Hannan and in ’76 of “Picnic at Hanging Rock” by Peter Weir (who in 1979 will receive the special Charybdis for the tenth anniversary of Festival of Nations) – the then unknown Australian cinematography was revealed, not only in Italy. A bond reaffirmed by a rich retrospective in 1987 proposed together with the Australian Film Commission.

As a prize to the winners of the Festival, the mythological figure of “Cariddi” was chosen, the disturbing creature that terrified those who had to cross the Strait from the Sicilian side, connected to Scilla, on the Calabrian side. An award of mythological derivation also to the best performers: the “Mask of Polyphemus”.

The palmarès of the “Cariddi” was becoming more and more remarkable, as was the programming of the films out of competition of the “Week of the new film”, signed by authors such as Pier Paolo Pasolini, Dusan Makavejev, Derek Jarman up to the “scandal” of ’76, of the ‘”Empire of the Senses” by Nagisa Oshima.

From 1968 onwards, even the star scene made its changes felt: stars of the “new American cinema” arrived, such as Warren Beatty, Robert Altman, Jack Nicholson, Jodie Foster of “Taxi Driver”, still almost a child, barely more great by Tatum O’Neal. And the host of non-Hollywood presences grew, such as the actresses Vanessa Redgrave (who arrived with Franco Nero), Ingrid Thulin, Liv Ullmann, Verushka, Romy Schneider, and the directors Agnès Varda, Margarethe von Trotta and Jane Campion.

Completely unexpected was the organizational crisis in ’78 and then in ’79, when the competitive Festival did not even take place and even the David di Donatello were delivered elsewhere. The current Palazzo dei Congressi had not yet been inaugurated in Taormina and there was no valid alternative venue for screenings, except the Ancient Theater. On the one hand, an attempt was made to overcome the stalemate with a return to the past, hosting in the 1980s – for the last time – the Davids again, in an important evening because it was monopolized, rather than by the actors, by authors of the caliber of Andrej Tarkovskij , Rainer Werner Fassbinder, John Schlesinger and Marco Bellocchio.

However, in that moment of crisis the criteria for a turning point were outlined, with the creation of “Taormina Arte” – as a model of connection for all cinematographic, theatrical, musical, dance, figurative arts and video events – while in ’81 the “Festival of Nations” took on the name of “International Film Festival of Taormina”, again led by Biraghi and intended for films first or second works. Alongside the competition, the “Week of American cinema” was born, coordinated by Mario Natale, with the intention of presenting a “showcase” of “made in the USA” or more commercial films to satisfy the large audience of the Ancient Theater. Later Enrico Ghezzi would have called it “Cinema to come”. Here more than one film destined to break the box office – “007 – The moving target”, “Desperately Seeking Susan”, “Pretty Woman”, “Thelma & Louise”, “Basic Instinct”, “Pulp Fiction”, “The Crow ” and so on – had the first positive Italian test in Taormina.

And once again the aim was to create a “Film Festival”, bringing together the different souls of the big screen, inviting Gérard Depardieu, Robert Duvall, Ben Gazzara, Greta Scacchi, Kathleen Turner, Gabriel Byrne, Susan Sarandon, even Steven Seagal and Kelly LeBrock, and at the same time Hollywood “old glories” like Esther Williams, Glenn Ford, Cyd Charisse. It was the period of uncertainty at the end of the eighties, immortalized in the film “Private Visions”, jointly directed by Francesco Calogero, Ninni Bruschetta and Donald Ranvaud, shot during the 1988 edition: a comedy that makes fun of life itself of a film festival.

At the end of the eighties the kermesse could also begin to reap the fruits of an in-depth study of the cinematographic phenomenon, often self-managed by cineclubs or spontaneous groups of cinephiles, in any case very lively. Among the examples of that decade, the debates on Marilyn Monroe, Alfred Hitchcock, Joseph Losey, Roger Corman remain; the rediscovery of director Febo Mari; and finally the publication of the first volumes under the aegis of “Taormina Arte”: “Brian De Palma – The ghost of the film library”, “The last wave – Images of Australian cinema from the 70s and 80s”, “Peter Weir – A cinema lived dangerously”, “Genre: female – Directors and screenwriters in classic American cinema”, respectively edited by Carmelo Marabello, Ninni Panzera, Filippo D’Angelo and Piera Detassis.

A complex inheritance collected in 1991 – after two transitional editions directed again by Rondi – by the artistic direction of Enrico Ghezzi, strongly desired by the base of cinephiles. In eight years of work, Ghezzi has transferred his “blobbed” itineraries, made of “splinters”, “comet tails”, homages, multimedia, unacknowledged filmmakers, great masters, cartoons to the halls of the finally inaugurated Palazzo dei Congressi and to the Ancient Theater , documents, videos, working copies. Often difficult years, due to recurring financial shortages, but in which Taormina has rediscovered the taste for revealing important emerging directors with its “Chariddis”, ahead of the other Festivals.

To give a few examples: in ’91 the “Cariddi d’oro” went to Mike Leigh with “Life is sweet” (the jury was chaired by the dean Jean Negulesco) and in the competition there was also “Riff Raff” by Ken Loach ; in 1992 Mohsen Makhmalbaf with “Ruzi ruzegari cinema” (president Samuel Fuller) prevailed, among others, over Claude Chabrol; in 1993 the jury headed by Robert Parrish awarded Takeshi Kitano’s “Sonatine”, preferring it to Robert Rodriguez’s “El mariachi”, Atom Egoyan’s “Calendar”, Amos Gitai’s “Petrified Garden”. In the setting desired by Ghezzi, the competition was only one aspect of the much more articulated festival structure, in which targeted projects and extemporaneous intuitions gradually found their place: from a performance by Franco Battiato to the raids of Piero Chiambretti, from the proposals of Tatti Sanguineti to the dialogues with the protagonists of the cinema, even when they didn’t have a new film to propose.

Even when the Taormina Festival was forced to very small editions, first in ’95 and then even transferred to the end of December in ’96 (the only edition in late autumn), there was no shortage of stimulating occasions: the missed summer kermesse of ’96, for example, it was transformed into a sort of meeting of the general states of Italian cinema, a mega-conference attended by Marco Ferreri, Bernardo Bertolucci, Mario Martone, Dario and Asia Argento, Laura Betti and many other old and new personalities of our cinematography. And back to normal, in 1997, the president of the jury Michael Cimino proudly announced that for the first time a documentary, “The Saltmen of Tibet” by Ulrike Koch, was the winner of the “Golden Charybdis”, in a competition without distinction between fiction and non-fiction, anticipating a trend that was later consolidated in other international events.

Thus, even with Ghezzi, Taormina continued to be an almost metaphysical oasis, a place of spontaneous crossings, animated – quoting haphazardly – by John Malkovich, Aki Kaurismaki, Quentin Tarantino, John Boorman, Jane Birkin, Abbas Kiarostami, Francesca Neri , Ciprì and Maresco, Monica Bellucci. Up to Matt Dillon, called in 1998 to return to give Hollywood “shivers”, actually more interested in meeting, in the quiet of the Hotel San Domenico, Barry Gifford, the writer of “Wild at Heart”, to design “City of Ghosts” , Dillon’s directorial debut: yet another creation conceived in Taormina.

From 1999 to 2006 it was Felice Laudadio’s turn to leave the imprint of his artistic direction at the “Taormina FilmFest”, as he renamed it. In 1999 the “Ciak d’oro” – for a single time in the Pearl of the Ionian – had the task of recreating the “night of the stars” but bad weather (a more unique than rare event) prevented the ceremony in the Ancient Theater, forcing Simona Ventura to present it at the Palacongressi.

In his first year, Laudadio confirmed the consolidated scheme, with evening screenings at the Teatro Antico, naming the section “Grande cinema” and with the section of films in competition. Except then opting from 2000 for the abolition of the competition, launching the formula of “Made in English”, intended for films in English, and establishing a new recognition, the “Taormina Arte Diamond Award”, assigned to personalities such as Norman Jewison, Melanie Griffith, Tonino Guerra, Liam Neeson, Miriam Makeba and many others. The highlight, one of the most intense in the entire history of the festival, of the first edition of the new millennium was the presence of Tom Cruise, who arrived by helicopter with director John Woo for the European launch of “Mission: Impossible 2”.

In 2001, the screening of “Apocalypse Now” was of absolute emotional impact, finally in its complete version, presented by the director of photography Vittorio Storaro: while the images of Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece scrolled on the big screen of the Ancient Theater, in the background the eruption of Etna completed a unique natural spectacle. And Laudadio tried to be equally volcanic in his years in command, varying the formula several times in an attempt to keep up with the increasingly accelerated times of globalization. For example, by accepting and stimulating the advent of sponsors, to the point of arriving at the denomination of “Taormina BNL FilmFest”.

No competition, but many recognitions in the name of esteem for great personalities to whom the “Taormina Arte Award for Cinematic Excellence” is bestowed, accompanied by the applause of the Teatro Antico audience, which went among others to Robert Duvall, Joel Schumacher, Miklos Jancso , Marisa Paredes, Ornella Muti, Mariangela Melato, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Judi Dench, Virna Lisi, Victoria Abril, Malcolm McDowell, Hugh Hudson, Irene Papas, Bob Rafelson, Andie MacDowell. In 2003 Nino Manfredi, who has always been a great friend of the Review, having also married Erminia Ferrari from Taormina, collected the award from the master of cinema Gillo Pontecorvo and wanted to demonstrate his happiness – in what would have been his farewell from the public – by improvising a ballet on stage. And the name of Nino Manfredi is still dear to Taormina thanks to the award named after him which is presented in the Ancient Theater during the Silver Ribbons ceremony.

The vitality of the event was demonstrated with yet another skin change: in 2007 the artistic direction was entrusted to the American journalist Deborah Young, who sets a double record: she is the first woman to lead the Review and she is the first (so far the only) not Italian. In the editions directed by her until 2011, Deborah Young followed a precise guideline: to give an identity to the FilmFest in the sign of the Mediterranean centrality of Taormina and Sicily, bringing back the competition, however intended only for films from Mediterranean countries. And, year after year, a special section has been dedicated to each cinematography of the Mediterranean countries: Egypt, Turkey, France (in 2009 with a refined quartet of transalpine divas: Catherine Deneuve, Dominique Sanda, Fanny Ardant and Barbara Bouchet), Spain, up to the Maghreb countries. Naturally without forgetting the needs of the Ancient Theater, where blockbusters made in the USA were not lacking, from “Transformers” to “Toy Story 3”, which made the goggles necessary for 3D viewing debut in the Greco-Roman monument. Under the management of Deborah Young, the Campus was born for students who crowded the spaces of the FilmFest to follow the “Lessons in cinema” of illustrious protagonists of the big screen. Two names above all: Robert De Niro and Oliver Stone.

From 2012 to 2016 the editions of the Taormina FilmFest were entrusted to Tiziana Rocca as general director, assisted in the selection of films first by Mario Sesti and then by Jacopo Mosca and Chiara Nicoletti. Great attention was paid to the presence of notable guests of honour: from Sophia Loren to Claudia Cardinale, from Giuseppe Tornatore to Monica Guerritore, from Russell Crowe to Terry Gilliam, from Meg Ryan to Jeremy Irons, from Paola Cortellesi to  Sergio Castellitto, from Ornella Muti to Carlo Verdone and so on up to Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon, not only of the big screen but also of TV (the “Beautiful” Ronn Moss, the “Grey’s Anatomy” Ellen Pompeo), with a shrewd choice of screenings at the Teatro Antico for satisfy the general public, but also effective “Taoclass” for meetings, as well as with the aforementioned, also with Oscar-fresh Patricia Arquette, Marco Bellocchio, Harvey Keitel, Thierry Frémaux, Oliver Stone, Jeremy Renner, Rupert Everett, Claudio Bisio , Fabio De Luigi, Carlo and Enrico Vanzina, up to Giovanna Ralli who announced her farewell to the scenes right in Taormina in 2015.

Instead, the 2017 edition seriously ran the risk of not taking place, due to problems for assigning the winners of the organization tender, between appeals and counter-appeals. But the general secretary of “Taormina Arte” Ninni Panzera willingly coordinated an “in house” programming, without screenings at the Teatro Antico, but with four packed days (and even an entire “Cinema Night”) of proposals dedicated to “made in Sicily” with Masterclasses by the actress Isabella Ragonese and the directors Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza, book presentations and many films such as “La prova” by Ninni Bruschetta with Angelo Campolo and “La divina Dolzedia” by Aurelio Grimaldi and Guia Jelo .

From 2018 to 2022 the organization of the Taormina Film Fest was entrusted to Videobank – a telecommunications company, leader in Italy and Europe in video broadcasting and satellite uplink services – by Lino Chiechio and Maria Guardia Pappalardo, who courageously launched the edition number 64 (despite the strong delay of the official assignment) under the auspicious sign of the splendid image of the poster with Monica Vitti in the film “L’avventura”. With the artistic direction of Silvia Bizio and Gianvito Casadonte – although the kermesse was able to enjoy the Teatro Antico only on the final evening and had to take place entirely in the Palazzo dei congressi – the programmatic lines clearly emerged, starting from the return of the competition with the presence of an all-female jury – chaired by Martha De Laurentiis, with Maria Grazia Cucinotta, Eleonora Granata, Donatella Palermo and Adriana Chiesa – up to the possibility of confrontation with cinema personalities such as Richard Dreyfuss, Terry Gilliam, Maria Sole Tognazzi, Monica Guerritore, Sabina Guzzanti, Matthew Modine and Rupert Everett. Everett himself, on this occasion accompanied by the costume designer Maurizio Millenotti, was particularly keen to present his directorial debut out of competition in Taormina, “The Happy Prince – The last portrait of Oscar Wilde”, the production of which had been himself announced during the 2015 FilmFest: yet another promise from Taormina kept.

The Taormina Film Fest 65, from 30 June to 6 July 2019, brought a nice novelty: the setting up of the first real red carpet of the kermesse, on the intuition of the organization consultant Marco Fallanca, in a strategic position in the heart of the city of Taormina. Thus Piazza IX Aprile, with its magnificent panoramic view of the bay of Naxos dominated by Etna, became the protagonist of suggestive photocalls, the most memorable of which was certainly the crowded one for the guest of honor Nicole Kidman. An edition with Bizio and Casadonte confirmed as directors and finally with the certainty of being able to have the scenery of the Ancient Theater every evening. A nice poster, with Stefania Sandrelli and Dominique Sanda in the film “The Conformist” by Bernardo Bertolucci, accompanied the festival days which saw, in addition to Kidman, Octavia Spencer, Peter Greenaway, Bruce Beresford, Phillip Noyce, Martha Coolidge, Julia Ormond, Dominique Sanda and Alessandro Haber. Among others also present Richard Dreyfuss, Marco Bellocchio and Pierfrancesco Favino, André Aciman, Julia Ormond, Paolo Genovese, Connie Nielsen, Carolina Crescentini, Daniele Luchetti, Dome Karukoski, and the cast of “Aspromonte” with director Mimmo Calopresti and Marcello Fonte between the protagonists. 81 previews in selection and 9 previews at the Teatro Antico, including the box-office record “Spider-Man: Far from Home”. Absolute preview of “Cruel Peter” by the Messina director Christian Bisceglia. Reintroduced editorial line with competitive sections and Cariddi and Maschere di Polifemo prizes, Oliver Stone president of the jury awarded “Show me what you got” by Svetlana Cvetko as best film, while the best screenplay went to “Picciridda” by Paolo Licata.

The moment of growth so happily in Taormina was interrupted in 2020, as in the rest of the world, by the devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Videobank, which had already entrusted the artistic direction to the great actor Leo Gullotta and the director Francesco Calogero, had to wait until the last moment before being able to communicate the dates of the Film Fest (July 11-19) which took place with a interesting but emergency, hybrid formula between the competition, dedicated to first works, in the Palacongressi with distanced spectators, and streaming programming on the specialized site MyMovies. Streaming speeches by various casts and authors, including Walter Murch, Giorgio Rights and Elio Germano. Yet it was equally possible to organize two evening events at the Ancient Theater (with entrances limited to a thousand spectators): opening celebrations of the famous Dolce & Gabbana stylists with the preview of the documentary “Devotion” by Giuseppe Tornatore, dedicated to them, in the presence by Monica Bellucci and the singing trio “Il Volo”. And then the closing ceremony, conducted by Leo Gullotta, with the lifetime achievement awards to the three-time Oscar winner Vittorio Storaro, to the four-time Oscar candidate Willem Dafoe, to the star of “Game of Thrones” Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, also protagonist of the preview of “The Day We Died” (Krudttønden), and to the journalist Laura Delli Colli. Three sections were proposed with 42 previews from 29 different nationalities (14 first works, 12 documentaries, 11 independent films). The jury of feature films chaired by Emmanuelle Seigner awarded the Golden Charybdis to the Danish “Onkel” by Frelle Petersen.

The final two-year period of Videobank saw a trio of artistic directors at work: Alessandra De Luca, Federico Pontiggia and Francesco Alò. The gradual return to normality, as fortunately the context of the pandemic was weakening, was already felt in 2021 (from 27 June to 3 July) with the inauguration in the Palacongressi entrusted to Francesco Cannavà’s “Space Beyond” and the end with the special screening of “Black Widow”. But fortunately it was also possible to restart the evenings at the Ancient Theater which were attended, among others, by Catherine Frot, Peter Stein, Valeria Golino, Michela Cescon, Anna Ferzetti, Francesca Michielin, Massimo Ghini (who collected the “Premio Nino Manfredi”). In addition to Matilda De Angelis, awarded by the jury presided over by director Susanna Nicchiarelli with the Mask of Polyphemus as best actress for the film “Atlas” by Niccolò Castelli. Multi-award-winning “Next door” directed and performed by Daniel Brühl, as best film and best actor, while the directorial award went to “A classic horror story” by Roberto De Feo and Paolo Strippoli.

In 2022 the Taormina Film Fest 68 brought special emotions to life in the Ancient Theater which finally returned to its normal capacity on the opening and closing evenings. On 26 June the masterful Francis Ford Coppola was the absolute protagonist, who returned 50 years later to the Sicilian filming locations of the masterpiece “The Godfather”, screened for the occasion in the version restored by Paramount. On July 2, Giuseppe Tornatore re-proposed his “Ennio” on the big screen, a heartfelt tribute to Morricone, whose music resounded once again in the Taormina monument, with the showman Rosario Fiorello as a surprise guest. The other festival appointments were enlivened by Max Giusti who introduced, as voice actor, the preview of the popular cartoon “Minions 2 – How Gru becomes very bad”, and guests such as Eva Longoria, Sofia Carson, Diane Warren, Ferzan Ozpetek, Marco Giallini, Isabella Ferrari, and some of the footballers (Fulvio Collovati, Beppe Dossena, Franco Selvaggi and Marco Tardelli) world champions in Spain and protagonists of the evocative documentary “Italy 1982, a blue story”. Cristina Comencini, president of the jury, announced the triumph of the English “Boiling Point” directed by actor Philip Barantini in his debut behind the camera, which was awarded the Golden Charybdis for best film, the Silver Charybdis for best director and also the Mask of Polyphemus for best actor Stephen Graham. A well-deserved special “Taormina Arte Award” to Ninni Panzera, who took his leave after 35 years of appreciated activity as general secretary of the event.

A strong and decisive sign of change in the organization arrived at the beginning of 2023. It was long awaited, after long years of receivership in which Pietro Di Miceli and Bernardo Campo took turns, and the statute of the “Taormina Arte Sicilia Foundation” has thus had its complete and definitive implementation. The honorable Elvira Amata – Councilor for Tourism, Sport and Entertainment of the Sicilian Region – with her own decree established the first board of directors, which by statutory provision is chaired by the mayor of Taormina, appointing Sergio Bonomo as vice president and the members Gianandrea Agnoni, Franco Cicero and Marcello Muscolino. On February 28, the mayor of Taormina Mario Bolognari was able to convene the inaugural meeting of the board of directors which in the following weeks voted the architect Ester Bonafede as superintendent and the master Beatrice Venezi as artistic director. Despite the shortage of times in view of the 2023 summer programming, Beatrice Venezi has set up a significant program of opera, symphonic and chamber music, dance and prose events and has therefore proposed to the board of directors the appointment of Barrett Wissman as co-director for the Taormina Film Fest. On 29 May the new mayor of Taormina was elected, the Hon. Cateno De Luca, who becomes president of the Taormina Arte Sicilia Foundation. The 69th edition of the film festival (from 23 June to 1 July 2023) is therefore by the American Barrett Wissman, an internationally esteemed cultural manager, who has already anticipated the fundamental lines of his artistic imprint: no more films competing at the Palacongressi but important retrospectives with screenings, for example, of films directed by John Landis, films made together by Willem Dafoe as actor and Abel Ferrara as director, and a selection of films from the prestigious Warner Bros catalog celebrating 90 years of activity productive.

Of course, the very popular evenings at the Teatro Antico have been confirmed, entrusted to titles of extreme impact such as, for example, “Indiana Jones and the quadrant of destiny” (and the presence of the cast is announced, which includes names such as Harrison Ford, Antonio Banderas and Mads Mikkelsen) and “Jeanne du Barry” starring Johnny Depp. But also space for contemporary audiovisual languages well known by the youngest with an appointment with leading personalities in the universe of “social media” such as Bella Thorne and Khaby Lame. Furthermore, as a further good omen, the return to the Ancient Theater of the “Silver Ribbons” of the National Union of Film Journalists chaired by Laura Delli Colli is confirmed to honor “La Stranezza”, the national film of the year, with a totally Sicilian setting, together with the director Roberto Andò and the protagonists Toni Servillo (who plays Luigi Pirandello), Salvo Ficarra and Valentino Picone. A brilliant and articulated programming, commendable also for the speed of realization in a few weeks, which is now being judged by the vast public and has all the potential, in view of the significant celebration of the 70 editions of the Film Fest in 2024, to revitalize in the best possible way of ways the great adventure of cinema in Taormina.

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