Lazotti's film wins best pic, performance prizes

Gianfrancesco Lazotti’s “From the Waist Up,” a romancer between a handicapped woman and a killer in the slammer, was a hit with the Taormina Film Festival jury on Friday, taking home the Golden Tauro for best picture in the Mediterranean competition as well as a shared performance prize for Cristiana Capotondi and Filippo Nigro.

The director prize went to Spain’s Jorge Coira for his sophomore feature “18 Meals.”

The audience award in the Beyond the Mediterranean section went to Markus Goller’s Teutonic laffer “Friendship!” while the Young People’s Jury gave their nods to Joao Daniel Tikhomiroff’s “Besouro” in the Brazilian sidebar and Judith Colell’s “53 Winter Days,” part of the Spanish tribute.

Young helmer Emanuele Pisano took home the Sicilian short prize for “Rec, Stop and Play.”

The awards ceremony capped a week of screenings that included a packed opening night in the ancient Greek amphitheater where “Toy Story 3″ unspooled in what was billed as the world’s first open air 3-D projection.

Cinema chats with Robert De Niro, Colin Firth, Marco Bellocchio and Francesco Alliata — who all received Toarmina Arte Awards — plus Neil LaBute, Emir Kusturica, Dario Argento and fashion designer Valentino, reinforced fest topper Deborah Young’s commitment to bringing high-profile talent to the boutique-sized event.

Tightened purse strings and political conflicts were mentioned in the closing press conference as contributing factors underlying an uncertain gestation, but the fullest screenings in years and increased media coverage were positive indications that Young managed to steer the fest’s 56th edition through rough waters.

The fest’s industry event, Spazio Taormina, saw representatives from Fortissimo Films, TrustNordisk, the Berlinale’s European Film Market and Minerva Pictures, and included a delegation of Brazilian producers who discussed the new co-production collaboration between Italy and Brazil.

Dissident Iranian helmer Jafar Panahi, recently released from prison in Tehran, was unable to pick up his Taormina Arte Award personally as the Iranian government revoked his passport, but he sent a moving video message in which he praised Young’s longstanding support of Farsi cinema.

Actress and collaborator Fatemeh Motamed-Arya accepted the honor in his place, offering reassuring words about the director whose weeks in jail received so much attention from the film community and beyond.

The sudden death in Taormina from an apparent heart attack of film critic and scholar Peter Brunette on Wednesday added a sad note that lingered on, especially among the foreign press corps.

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