Impressions from Taormina

in 49th Taormina Film Fest

by Pia Horlacher

Taormina is one of those wonderful summer festivals, like Venice, Locarno or San Sebastian, where you don’t go just to see movies, meet people and do business. They live from the spirit of the place more than from the programme and the business opportunities they offer for journalists, critics, distributors and others of the large familiy of film people whousually gather at such events. In fact, in the case of Taormina, most movies have a hard time competing with the spectacular site and the sensational sights this small town high on a steep hill on the Sicilian east coast offers.

Both as a tourist and as a festival-goer you learn one thing right away in this ancient town: to appreciate the concept of “a room with a view”, in the literal sense as well as in the metaphorical as in E.M. Forster who knew how to deal with overwhelming sensations better than any other writer . If you are lucky – or rich enough – you can lounge or work on a hotel-balcony overlooking the Messina Straits in all their glory: the calm blue sea with it’s emerald bays and inlets, the coast that, from afar, hides its uglier aspects of cheap touristic architecture, and the green forrested ravines leading up into the mountains, first among them, of course, the Etna, always shrouded in smokey clouds. One’s language tends to get rather pathetic in such splendid scenery, and if it’s not this, it might be the inebriation that the local wines and spirits offer: one of them is called, appropriately, “Il fuoco dell’Etna”, a fiery red, spicy liquor that sends you into the right sentimental mood – or right to sleep.

As readers can guess by now, Taormina festival is not a place where one would want to spend all one’s days in the darkness of the screening room or the cinema – unless it’s the Cinema al Teatro Greco, the magnificent open-air-screen put up for the duration of the festival in the ancient Roman-Greek Theatre dating back to 300 B.C., one of the main attractions of not only Taormina but the whole island. Here, the nightly screenings of the “grande cinemal al teatro greco” take place, and sitting among these spectacular ruins high up between sea and sky, you don’t really care too much what cinematic fare you are offered. Let’s just say: it did not live up to the setting. But since this evening screenings are meant to be the launching pad for the films of the summer season in the Italian cinemas – their professional organisations had their twice-yearly reunion just prior to the festival -, the festival public gets here what the Italian public will get in the weeks to come, or, in the words of a rather harsher Hungarian colleague: mostly American sh… So we had the new this and the new that (James Mangold, Joel Schumacher) which turned out to be the old this and the old that, but we also had, for example, an interesting BBC tv-movie, The Other Boleyn Girl from Philippa Lowthrope – one of the too few women directors at this festival – which as a first feature film would have been better placed, though, in the Cinema del mondo, the section dedicated to potential discoveries of young directors from all over the world and the one our Fipresci-jury is judging.

This concept of providing for a wider audience in the evening and a more cineastically minded one during the day reminds me very much, coming from Switzerland, of our own summer festival in Locarno, though there they have an international competition for their very similar programme-section of young directors, not so well-known cinematographies and first or second movies. By the way, Locarno claims to have Europe’s most beautiful open-air screen – if not the world’s -, situated in the stunning old Piazza Grande of the small tourist town on the shores of Lago Maggiore in the Ticino. Well, even the most ardent patriot would have to allow some doubts on that claim after having been to Taormina’s antico teatro.