Top honors go to Egyptian film 'Eye of the Sun'

TAORMINA, Italy — As oozing lava cast a riveting red glow across the slopes of Mount Etna, the Taormina Film Festival closed its 54th edition from a safe distance in the Sicilian pleasure spot’s Ancient Greek Theater on Saturday.

Jury members helmer Ferzan Ozpetek, MOMA film curator Jytte Jensen and Sarajevo Film Festival director Mirsad Purivatra (Gallic thesp Elsa Zylberstein canceled early in the week) awarded top honors to Egyptian drama “Eye of the Sun,” helmer Ibrahim El Batout’s sophomore feature.

Best performance went to Tanja Ribic for Slovenian comedy “Tractor, Love and Rock ‘n’ Roll,” directed by Branko Djuric, while the jury prize was given to Seyfi Teoman’s family drama “Summer Book.”

Maintaining the focus instituted last year by fest topper and former Variety critic Deborah Young, competition pics were drawn from around the Mediterranean.

In the “Beyond the Mediterranean” section, best feature went to Gerardo Olivares’ “14 Kilometers” while Francesco Sperandeo’s “Bab Al Samah” took home the Sicilian short prize.

New this year was industry section Spazio Taormina, co-sponsored by the Sicilian Film Commission and the Italian Trade Board to bring buyers, distributors and sales agents to the fest. They saw screenings of Sicilian pics, both completed and works in progress, along with pitches promoting filming locations and support on the island.

Also inaugurated in 2008 was Campus Taormina to engage college students from throughout Sicily with screenings and workshops led by thesps including Luigi Lo Cascio, Jordi Molla and Alessio Boni.

Paul Schrader presented a restoration of “Mishima,” struck using new digital technology onto 35mm stock and featuring remastered shots and enhanced sound.

Fest kicked off with another restoration, specially commissioned by Taormina, of “Toby Dammit,” Federico Fellini’s contribution to the omnibus film “Spirits of the Dead.” Appropriately for a Sicilian festival, the screening was immediately followed by the newly restored “The Godfather.”

Turkish cinema was celebrated with a program of seven recent films selected by critic Atilla Dorsay.

Beside pics, the Turkish theme continued with a performance by band Baba Zula on the same night that vet thesp Tuncel Kurtiz (“The Edge of Heaven”) received a Taormina Arte Award.

Master classes, a fest mainstay, were given by New Yorker film critic Anthony Lane, Ozpetek and Schrader, the latter also receiving a Taormina Arte Award.

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