Masterclasses are star of fest's 50th anniversary

TAORMINA — Masterclasses outshone the crowdpleasing blockbusters at this year’s Taormina Film Festival, which wrapped up on June 20. The talks – by Peter Weir, Jane Campion, Margarethe von Trotta, Francesco Rosi, and Michael Douglas – were a highlight of the Sicilian fest.

Taormina’s 50th edition unspooled a mix of art house fare balanced with more populist works, including the well-received world premiere of Charles Dance’s helming debut “Ladies in Lavender,” co-starring Judi Dench and Maggie Smith as sisters learning to cope with dormant emotions. Dench was also on hand to pick up a career award.

Audience prize of E10,000 ($12,110) went to Avi Nesher’s feel-good feature “Turn Left at the End of the World,” about immi-grants adjusting to their new lives in ’60s Israel. Novice Irish helmer John Simpson picked up the E25,000 ($30,800) that comes with the BNL First Film Award for his gritty debut thriller “Freeze Frame,” while the FIPRESCI jury went with Erik Clausen’s “Villa Paranoia,” a popular choice that took an affecting but humorous look at the theme of loneliness in contempo Denmark.

Several last minute cancellations were quickly covered by replacement candidates, such as Italo helmer Luigi Magni hosting a cinema lesson in the absence of Stephen Frears. An ailing Giuni Russo couldn’t accompany the opening night screening of silent beauty “The Song of Naples,” which was shown with her taped performance.Much discussed French incest pic “My Mother,” rejected from Cannes competish, made its international bow, with helmer Christoph Honore and star Isabelle Huppert on hand to deflect criticism of its semi-pornographic nature. Less controversial fare included the world premiere of Mennan Yapo’s cool and assured debut policer “Soundless” (“Lautlos”), which tracks a professional assassin as he experiences his first feelings of love.

Those picking up career prizes from the stage of the ancient Greek amphitheater included Mira Sorvino, Michael Douglas and Antonio Banderas.

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