TAORMINA, Italy — Italy’s precarious economic situation is having repercussions on some of its most famous film fests. While Venice announced a 30 % budget cut, the venerable Taormina Intl. Film Festival, now in its 23rd year, suffered a dramatic funding crisis, which was solved just three weeks before the curtain rose on the July 27 to Aug. 2 event.
Taormina’s modest $ 600,000 budget, put up mostly by the region of Sicily, was confirmed so late many journalists and guests had made other plans and could no longer attend. The result was fewer star names, less fanfare and a substantial drop in festival audiences, corresponding to the 30% decline in summer tourism in this famous Sicilian resort town.
“I’m satisfied that we managed to bring a festival off at all,” confessed Taormina chief Enrico Ghezzi. In his three years of running the event, Ghezzi — a full-time programming director at pubcaster RAI-3 — and cohorts Carmelo Marabello and Marco Melani have breathed new life into the program, giving it a modern twist that has attracted new interest from the press and the world art film community.
This round, however, part of the close-knit clan of friends and cinephiles that gave the reborn fest its identity — including supporters the caliber of Michelangelo Antonioni and Bernardo Bertolucci — came unwoven, owing to last-minute confirmation that the fest would take place at all.
Also missing were the organizers’ entertaining nightly introductions in the city’s Greek amphitheater, where crowds dropped from 4,000 admissions for Col TriStar’s “Cliffhanger” to a disappointing few hundred for the three-hour Portuguese film “Valley of Abraham.” A hit with festgoers was the new long cut of “The Abyss — Special Addition,” which raised James Cameron’s status with Italian critics considerably.
The nightly screenings in the 6,000-seat amphitheater continue to be Taormina’s joy and despair. Filling the immense outdoor theater seems as impossible as seeing Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton reappear on stage, as they did when the fest put its focus on launching new U.S. pictures. Ghezzi, who spent a big chunk of his budget to subtitle some 30 films into Italian, clearly has no intention of going back to premiering new U.S. releases already dubbed for the Italian market.