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Jonas Cuaron’s Gael Garcia Bernal-Starrer ‘Desierto’ Wins Italy’s Taormina Film Fest

ROME — Mexican director Jonas Cuaron’s immigration thriller “Desierto,” starring Gael Garcia Bernal as a Mexican worker hunted by an American redneck sniper in the Mexico/U.S. border badlands won the top prize at Italy’s Taormina Film Festival.

The Sicilian event’s 62nd edition wrapped Saturday on a positive note with general manager Tiziana Rocca boasting a robust presence of Hollywood and international A-listers.

Desierto,” which STX Entertainment will be releasing in the U.S. in October, recently closed the Los Angeles Film Festival, after launching in Toronto, playing in London, and garnering critical praise. At Taormina the pic was part of a selection of U.S. indie titles picked by Variety critics in tandem with fest organisers. It is Jonas Cuaron’s second feature after “Year of the Nail.”

Palestinian director Mai Masri’s drama “3000 Nights,” about an unjustly incarcerated Palestinian schoolteacher who gives birth in an Israeli prison and fights to protect her son and maintain hope, won the fest’s newly introduced TaoEdu young prize dedicated to formative films for youths.

Though movies remain at its core, Taormina has morphed in recent years into a mix of film launches, master classes and glam galas with a strong humanitarian aspect.

The eight-day fest kicked off June 11 with 300 homeless people from various parts of Sicily gathered to attend the opening ceremony hosted by Richard Gere in Taormina’s spectacular ancient Greek theatre,  followed by a special screening of Disney/Pixar’s “Finding Dory.” Earlier in the day Oren Moverman’s raw and realistic “Time out of Mind,” in which Gere plays a vagrant trying to survive in New York, had played for both the homeless and the general public.

Harvey Keitel, Susan Sarandon, Oliver Stone, Jeremy Renner, Jacqueline Bisset, Micaela Ramazzotti, and Cannes artistic director Thierry Fremaux are among other notables who made the trek this year in various capacities.

Warner Bros’ “Angry Birds” also launched in Italy from the fest’s unique 8,000 seat open-air venue under Sicily’s active Mt. Etna volcano.

“I am very happy that even this year Hollywood stars and major film world personalities believed in our festival,” enthused Rocca, a marketing guru who took over four years ago as general manager, in a statement. Rocca has systematically upped the glam quotient, while also trying to strike a balance between mainstream and edgier titles.

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