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U.S. pix help revive Italy’s Taormina fest

Director looks to an English-only program

ROME — With crowds of close to 6,000 people packing screenings of “The Mummy” and “The Thirteenth Floor” during the final nights, the Taormina film fest wrapped a turning-point edition Saturday that saw the return of mass audiences for the first time in many years.

Attempting to resurrect some of the excitement that characterized the Sicilian resort-town event during its 1960s heyday, new fest topper Felice Laudadio plugged main venue the Teatro Greco — a magnificent Greco-Roman amphitheater used for open-air evening screenings — with local premieres of studio crowdpleasers.

Restoring luster

Showings of films like “Notting Hill,” “Go” and Brit pic “Human Traffic” were stymied by bad weather and forced indoors. But these and other key titles helped revive public interest that had been in decline in recent editions, when Laudadio’s predecessor, Enrico Ghezzi, showcased more specialized, esoteric fare.

Representatives of Taormina Arte, the financing and organizing committee behind the town’s trio of film, music and theater fests, and mayor Mario Bolognari expressed satisfaction with the return of sizable audiences to the event.

In a bid to distinguish the Taormina Intl. Film Festival from the throng of other late-summer fests that includes Venice, Locarno, Montreal and San Sebastian, Laudadio has proposed transforming it into a specialized event to be subtitled “Made in English.”

While the changes have yet to receive final approval, the fest topper has announced his intention to move the event forward next year to July 8-15 and to program exclusively English-lingo films, primarily from the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

‘Little Brothers’ best

This year’s international competition jury headed by Italo helmer Paolo Virzi awarded the Golden Cariddi prize for best film to French director Jacques Doillon for “Little Brothers,” which also landed the Fipresci international critics award and the Franco Cristaldi Prize for producer Marin Karmitz.

A special jury prize went to Russian director Valery Priemykhov for “Who Else If Not Us.” Edward Norton was named best actor for “American History X,” Niki Karimi took best actress for Iranian feature “Two Women” and the Silver Cariddi went to Macedonian feature “The Past,” by Ivo Trajkov.

A special mention was given to cinematographer Mary Farbrother for her work on Simon Beaufoy’s “The Darkest Light.”

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