Fest Traveler: Taormina 2012

Italy’s Taormina Film Festival is undergoing a radical reinvention, trading in its image as a semiserious shindig with art pics at its core to one that aims to take the pulse of global mainstream comedy.

Taormina’s total template change is certainly timely. Comedies are presently the Italian film industry’s driver, just as laffers are experiencing a robust run in France (megahits “The Intouchables” and “The Artist” attest), while continuing to be probably the only truly mainstream genre in the U.S., according to Italian film critic Mario Sesti, who was appointed fest topper in May.

“Comedy these days is the only genre that manages to lure the big moviegoing demographics: those under 20 and over 50,” Sesti says, noting that on the global fest circuit, comedies still tend to be snubbed.

Sesti’s vision, which some see as springing from economic constraints as the festival has endured budget cuts, marks a drastic departure from the Taormina delineated over the past five years by his predecessor, American film critic Deborah Young. She boosted the fest’s profile by upping its Hollywood star-power wattage by jetting in costly guests such as Robert De Niro, Jessica Lange and Oliver Stone, while making Taormina a mixed bag of Hollywood fare and assorted global goodies, with a more in-depth focus on movies from the Mediterranean basin.

Sesti’s ambition is for Taormina to become a bridge between comedies being made in Europe and Hollywood, and also to explore lesser-known comedy strands elsewhere, such as Indonesia and the Philippines.

A key aspect will be the fest’s function as a stimulus, providing fresh input for the Italian industry, which saw comedies take over the local box office. Of the top 15 local box office hits last year, 13 were comedies but none were significantly exportable.

“Italy once made very complex, fun comedies that were understood all over the world,” says Sesti, bemoaning the fact that French laffers hold that position today, while Italian comedy has become much more simplistic and provincial.

Internationally, Sesti sees comedy as the genre that makes tracing the mishmash of global cinematic influences the most fun.

“If you look at the ongoing dialogue between moviemaking in Europe and America through the prism of comedies it becomes even more interesting,” he says.

HIGHLIGHTS

  • As it did last year, Taormina will kick off with a 3D toon, this time it’s Disney-Pixar’s “Brave.” Making its Italian premiere, Scotland-set animated feature will unspool on the Greek Theatre’s giant outdoor screen, following in the paw prints of last year’s opener, “Kung Fu Panda 2.”

  • France is claiming its spot at the Sicilian fest with EuropaCorp’s “Love Lasts Three Years,” helmed by novelist Frederic Beigbeder. The romantic comedy follows a cocky literary critic who falls for his cousin’s wife.

  • Lebanese helmer and actress Nadine Labaki (“Where Do We Go Now?”) will be feted with the fest’s Mediterraneo nod.

  • In an interesting juxtaposition, Taormina will feature recent works by both Lawrence Kasdan, whose baby boomer drama “Darling Companion” will unspool, and his son Jonathan, who will bring his teen comedy “The First Time,” to the fest. Both pics will have their international preems at Taormina. Fest will also serve as the European launch pad for Fox’s “The Three Stooges.”

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