Fifty years for a man is a watershed but fifty years for a festival is nothing short of a miracle. The Taormina Festival in its 50th year, second only to the Venice Film Festival in terms of age, has given extensive proof of its clear cultural objectives in discovering film-makers and screening films with strong formal and thematic values.
The first edition of the festival took place in Messina in August 1955 and the program contained 7 films, 3 Italian and 4 American, which immediately created the right climate for the following festival. Gradually, it moved from Messina to Taormina, until it firmly established itself there, blessed with an ideal climate and a spectacular cliff-top location. Moreover, with its evocative ancient Greek Theatre, Taormina is the perfect place to put on theatrical events of various kinds, including stunning film screenings.
In the 1960s, with the advent of television and the David di Donatello and the Silver Ribbon awards, Taormina quickly became a focal point where both Italian celebrities such as Magnani, Lollobrigida, De Sica and Gassman, and Hollywood stars (Cary Grant, Susan Hayward, Charlton Heston, Anthony Perkins, Audrey Hepburn, Marlon Brando and Gregory Peck) spent memorable nights together. The “changing of the guard” in 1968 attracted an even larger number of Italian and foreign actors and directors: Bertolucci, Losey, Pontecorvo, Sergio Leone, Francesco Rosi, Warren Beatty, Peter Fonda, Terence Stamp and Jodie Foster.
In fact, Taormina, after a precocious and fortunate beginning, moved with a sure step towards a radiant future. With such festival directors as Gian Luigi Rondi and, especially, Guglielmo Biraghi, the festival on Monte Tauro, which overlooks the sea, sailed towards the prestigious 70s, 80s and 90s. Problems were faced each time and overcome with great effort by the various directors the festival has had over the years, until the current director deus ex machina Felice Laudadio, previous the director of the Venice film Festival for two years, the producer of films by Margarethe Von Trotta and Antonioni’s “Beyond The Clouds”, took over with his wise and enterprising direction.
Today, Taormina can proudly celebrate its 50th anniversary, renewing itself on both organizational and cultural levels, The Master Classes, conducted by Rosi, Jane Campion, Von Trotta, Peter Weir, during this year’s festival, were attended by both young and old, Italian and foreigners, first-timers and veterans.
© FIPRESCI 2004