Taormina FilmFest unveils program of 53rd Festival

Highlights include a new Mediterranean competition, festivities celebrating the centenary of Egyptian cinema, the first complete retrospective of Sicilian director Giuseppe Tornatore, and the gala Italian premières of Paramount Pictures’ Transformers in the presence of director Michael Bay, Warner Bros’s Lucky You with director Curtis Hanson, and the Fox Italia release of Flyboys directed by Tony Bill in the opening night slot. “The return of the American majors to Taormina in force this year is a signal of their renewed interest in the festival’s ability to provide a glamorous, high-profile showcase for international product,” said Young. “It is particularly significant that Transformers, produced by Steven Spielberg and the hottest of this summer’s releases, is coming out in Italy before the United States and the U.K. and will be shown in Taormina before it is seen either of those countries.” Although there will be scattered screenings of the film in the days preceding its Greek Theater presentation on June 21, the Taormina gala is conceived as the principal world bow for the Michael Bay film, and will see the Paramount team turn out in force, as it did in 2000 for Tom Cruise and M:I 2 when that film made its European premier in Taormina. Sicilian cinema makes a triumphal return to the festival this year. Besides the re-entry of the popular Sicilian short film competition, the entire festival will be dedicated to Sicilian director Giuseppe Tornatore, beginning with the gala opening on June 16. During the opening evening, which will be conducted by actor Beppe Fiorello, Tornatore will receive the festival’s top prize, the Taormina Arte Award. Taormina is proud to host the first complete retrospective of Tornatore’s feature films, his rare documentaries from the Eighties restored by Rai Sicilia, and all his commercials curated by Antonino Panzera, the general secretary of the Comitato Taormina Arte which produces the Taormina Film Fest. The festival is also publishing a catalog (Silvana Editoriale) dedicated to Tornatore and filled with critical essays by leading Italian writers and many previously unpublished stills and photographs. Some ninety of these will be on display during the festival beginning the afternoon of June 16. Closing night, June 22, will be presented by the festival in association with the Sindacato Nazionale Giornalisti Cinematografici (SNGCI), whose famous Nastri d’Argento prizes will be awarded the following night. The evening will be conducted by Virginie Vassart and Luca Vasile and will start with the return of Giuseppe Tornatore to the stage of the Greek Theater together with Maestro Ennio Morricone, who will the Symphonic Orchestra of the Corelli Conservatory in a selection of music from Tornatore’s most important soundtracks. This will be followed by the prize ceremony of the 53rd Taormina Film Fest and, passing the torch, the awarding of several of the Nastri d’Argento. The evening will conclude with a special performance of Ariel Dorfman’s play “Speak Truth to Power” celebrating the defenders of human rights in the world presented by the Robert F. Kennedy Foundation. The play will be read by a prestigious cast of noted Italian actors under the direction of Mimmo Calopresti and accompanied by the famous multi-ethnic Orchestra di Piazza Vittorio whose rousing concert will wind up the 53rd festival on a high note. Kerry Kennedy, the daughter of Robert F. Kennedy, will be present. By happy coincidence, this year marks the return of Italy’s Nastri d’Argento film prizes to Taormina. Tornatore will be back on stage at the Greek Theater on June 23 to receive the Nastro d’Argento for Best Film, awarded to his new feature La sconosciuta (The Unknown Woman.) Promoted by the Sindacato Nazionale Giornalisti Cinematografici Italiani (SNGCI), the Nastri will be consigned the day after the festival on June 23, while the Sindacato will co-present two important special events with the Taormina Film Fest on the festival’s closing day, June 22. One of the most glamorous evenings of the festival is scheduled for June 20, one hundred years to the day after the first Egyptian film was screened. The top ranks of the Egyptian film industry are flying to Sicily for the centenary celebration. Leading star Youssra will appear on stage to receive a Taormina Arte Award, the first to be given to an Arab actor. The minister of culture, His Excellency Farouk Hosny, who is a former director of the Accademia d’Egitto in Rome, will be presented with the first Nielsen Award for Dialogue Between Cultures, and a Special Mention will be given to Mr. Naguib Sawiris, the chairman of Orascom Telecom, for his support of the Cairo International Film Festival. Also present to celebrate Egypt, which is the leading film industry in the Arab world, are young stars Hend Sabry and Khaled El Nabawy; the director and deputy directors of the Cairo film festival Ezzat Abo Ouf and Madame Soheir Abdel Kader and director Yousry Nasrallah. Marwan Hamed, a member of the jury and the director of The Yacoubian Building, is stage-managing the evening, which will conclude with a special command performance by legendary Egyptian singer Mohammed Mounir. Egypt is the first Mediterranean country to be feted as Taormina’s Guest of Honor. Every day during the festival, the renowned film critic Samir Farid will present a retrospective of seven recent Egyptian productions from 2001-2005, concluding with The Yacoubian Building. These are the last seven movies to appear in the critics’ list of “The 100 Most Important Egyptian Films of All Time.” We have selected the most recent titles to illustrate the renewed vitality of Egyptian cinema and its growing ability to make contact with Western audiences. “Bollywood has been discovered in the West and is making commercial inroads. Now it’s time we discovered Arab cinema, which is immensely important as a cultural channel for the people of the region, and which can offer significant insights into Arab culture which is not at all as “alien” as we sometimes think,” said Young. “The Tribeca festival, for example, devotes a great deal of attention to Middle Eastern cinema. We want Taormina to do the same in Europe, becoming a reference point and a meeting point for filmmakers from this area.” Rounding out the Greek Theater screenings of great entertainment films are two movies we think are irresistible pieces of new filmmaking. In Les Temoins (The Witnesses), director André Téchiné reaches a personal artistic peak in a story that begins as a fast-moving French comedy and morphs into a compelling drama about the AIDS crisis of the Eighties. And Maldeamores (Lovesickness), directed by the young husband-and-wife team Carlitos Ruiz Ruiz and Mariem Perez Riera, is a highly original feature debut at once very amusing and very moving. “Taormina Film Fest programmers Maria Rosaria Cerino, Lorenza Micarelli and I are particularly proud of the seven films we have rounded up for the first Mediterranean competition,” noted Young. Four are world premiers, two others were selected before they won the top prizes at Tribeca in May, and the last title won the best film prize at Istanbul in April. “By limiting our search to the Mediterranean countries,” she said, “we had what at first looked like a very hard row to hoe to bring home a sterling competition worthy of a world-class jury. But now that the selection is done, I can truthfully say we are looking at an extraordinary crop of films.” Mediterranean Competition: ITALY: Uomo di vetro (Man of Glass) directed by Stefano Incerti, with David Coco, Anna Buonaiuto and Tony Sperandeo, wp TURKEY: Adem in trenleri (Adam and the Devil) directed by Baris Pirhasan SPAIN: Fuerte Apache directed by Jaime Matteo Adrover, wp MOROCCO: Tarek el ayalat (Two Women on the Road) directed by Farida Bourquia with Mouna Fetou and Aicha Mahmah .wp TUNISIA: Akher film (Making Of) directed by Nouri Bouzid with Lotfi Abdeli FRANCE: 13 M 2 directed by Barthelemy Grossman, wp ISRAEL: Hofshtkaits (My Father My Lord) directed by David Volach Naturally, Taormina is not so regional as to ignore the bright new filmmaking coming from other parts of the world. Six titles will compete for an Audience Award in the new Beyond the Mediterranean section. Five of the films presented in this section will be world premieres from Ireland, Russia, Bulgaria and Japan. Lucia Puenzo’s startling debut XXY, winner of this year’s Semaine de la Critique in Cannes, will round out the selection along with Good Time Max, the directing debut of hot new Hollywood star James Franco (who can be seen in Flyboys as well.) Beyond the Mediterranean: IRELAND: Kings directed by Tom Collins with Colm Meaney, wp. RUSSIA: Kremen (Flint), directed by Aleksei Mizgiryov , wp JAPAN: Akanezora (Beyond the Crimson Sky), directed by Masaki Hamamoto, wp ARGENTINA: XXY directed by Lucia Puenzo BULGARIA: Pazachut na murtvite (Warden of the Dead) directed by Ilian Simeonov, wp USA: Good Time Max directed by James Franco, with James Franco, Vince Jollivet Taormina was one of the first festivals to give audiences a chance to learn about filmmaking through Master Classes with the world’s greatest directors and actors. Now that almost all festivals have embraced this concept, it continues to dedicate its mornings to lessons by filmmakers. The Master Classes will be held by Giuseppe Tornatore, British director Terence Davies, and American actor Matt Dillon. Master Classes: June 17: Giuseppe Tornatore (moderated by Franco Cicero) Film: Nuovo Cinema Paradiso June 19: Terence Davies (moderated by Olivia Stewart) Film: House of Mirth June 20: Matt Dillon (moderated by Olivia Stewart) Film: City of Ghosts Dulcis in fundo, the international jury this year is composed of world-class filmmakers who will assign the first Gold Tauro, a new prize that is represented by a Greek coin depicting a bull (the tauromenitam) found in Taormina and re-elaborated by designer Tina Berenato. They will also award a Special Jury prize and Best Actor and Actress awards on stage at the Greek Theater on June 22. Taormina Film Fest 53 jury: Luis Puenzo, president, Argentina. Oscar (c) for Best Foreign Language Film in 1985 for The Official Story Peter Scarlet, USA. Director of the Tribeca Film Festival Goran Paskaljevic, Serbia. Film director whose most recent work includes The Powderkeg/Cabaret Balkan, A Midwinter Night’s Dream, The Optimists Marwan Hamed, Egypt. Director of The Yacoubian Building “This is an exceptional year for the festival from all points of view,” affirmed Deborah Young. “It is our hope that Taormina’s new Mediterranean identity will distinguish it from the multitude of other Italian festivals, while it blends with Sicily’s location and cultural heritage to create a yearly meeting point for film professionals from the East and West Mediterranean.” A tip of the hat is owed to the Taormina Film Fest staff who have so enthusiastically directed their professional talents to putting together an international festival in a mere five months: deputy director Giuliana Del Punta, international relations head Valentina Mezzacappa, festival coordinator expert Chiara Nicoletti, and hospitality chief Rossella Piergentili, as well as the entire Taormina Arte contingent down in Sicily. ***