1926 pic 'Napoli' to open festival

ROME — Charles Dance’s helming debut, “Ladies in Lavender,” starring Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Natascha McElhone, leads the pack of world premieres at the 50th Taormina Film Festival, unspooling June 13-20.

Fest director Felice Laudadio announced eight world and five international premieres for the golden anniversary, along with a high-powered lineup of master classes hosted most notably by Stephen Frears, Margarethe von Trotta, Jane Campion and Peter Weir.

Kickoff in the ancient Teatro Greco amphitheater will be the 1926 silent beauty “Napoli che canta” (The Song of Naples), which wowed audiences at last year’s Pordenone fest, again featuring live accompaniment by Italo songbird Giuni Russo. Pic, helmed by Leone Roberto Roberti, father of Sergio Leone, is a lyrical farewell to the beauties of Naples as seen through the eyes of Italian immigrants.

Among this year’s world premieres are “Miracolo a Palermo!” (“Miracle in Palermo!”), a 24-hour slice of Sicilian life directed by Beppe Cino, and Eleanor Yule’s updated Zolaesque tale “Blinded,” starring Jodhi May and Peter Mullan.

Also slated are a slew of feature debuts: Mennan Yapo’s German lingo thriller “Lautlos” (Without a Sound), Milos Jovanovic’s Serbian “Memo” and Kiwi helmer Larry Parr’s “Fracture.”

U.S. pics previously unspooled elsewhere include John Lee Hancock’s “The Alamo,” Todd Phillips’ “Starsky and Hutch,” and Irwin Winkler’s “De-Lovely”, the only Cannes pickup this year. Also on the bill is Enki Bilal’s sci-fi fantasy “Immortal Ad Vitam” with Charlotte Rampling.

This year’s fest ups the prize ante by introducing the BNL First Film Award, worth x25,000 ($30,800), with jurors including helmer Michael Verhoeven, Istanbul Film Fest director Hulya Ucansu and fashion designer Emanuel Ungaro.

Italo crix award ceremony for the Silver Ribbons will be presented on June 19 against the backdrop of Mt. Etna, with a career achievement award going to French star Fanny Ardant. Making up for a no-show at last year’s ceremony will be Roman Polanski, picking up his prize for foreign film winner “The Pianist.”

This year’s festivities are dedicated to Italo legend Michelangelo Antonioni and recently deceased actor Nino Manfredi.

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