Taormina Film Fest Showcases Mainstream Movies Alongside Cutting-Edge Fare

Ancient Greek theater on Sicily's coast provides backdrop for celebs, execs and film-goers

Tullio M. Puglia/Getty Images for Maserati
Tullio M. Puglia/Getty Images for Maserati

The Taormina film festival, one of Italy’s oldest, has undergone many makeovers. Its most recent mission is to help salvage the country’s sagging box office from yet another bout of summer blues.

In part that has always been one of the storied Sicilian film fest’s functions. But since marketing guru Tiziana Rocca took over four years ago as general manager, Taormina’s top priority has been to devise new ways to boost Italo moviegoing in the summer as well as cater to the need’s of Italy’s film industry orgs.

During this time “we’ve reached many goals,” boasts Rocca.

Rocca took over when Taormina was a respected but on-the-brink-of-bankruptcy, auteur-driven affair.

Since then she’s forged closer ties with Italy’s motion picture association Anica, with state film entity Istituto Luce, and with the country’s prestigious Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia film school. Its alumni, including Liliana Cavani (“The Night Porter”) and Ermanno Olmi (“The Tree of Wooden Clogs”), will be honored at the festival this year with a sidebar.

Istituto Luce, Italy’s state film entity, will be providing a sidebar of docus created with materials from its vast archives.

Even more importantly, Rocca has stepped up efforts to woo Hollywood studios back to Taormina’s 8,000-seat open-air ancient Greek theater, a gem in the shadow of Sicily’s active Mt. Etna volcano. The studios are now trekking to Taormina with more hot summer titles than before.

This year Rocca is more in control of the lineup, since her former artistic director, Mario Sesti, recently stepped down, replaced by a four-member selection committee. She boasts that she has doubled the number of movies from last year and will be showing over 100 films.

Alongside these changes, a cutting-edge section dedicated to web-series remains in place.

Segueing from its Cannes world preem, Disney/Pixar’s 3D “Inside Out” will open Taormina’s Greek theater on June 13, ahead of its June 19 release in U.S.

There’s also a more mainstream glam side to Taormina these days with Asia Argento booked as master of ceremonies, while Patricia Arquette and Italian director Gabriele Salvatores (“Mediterraneo”) will hold master classes.

“Asia is one of the most fascinating internationally acclaimed Italian actresses,” Rocca says enthusiastically. “We are so proud to have such a bold and powerful woman as emcee of our event, which places particular attention to the female universe.”

Taormina’s glam, and also its humanitarian, component will make up an event for the U.N.’s Fashion for Development charity, hosted by Vogue Italy editor-in-chief Franca Sozzani.

Back to movies, Jean-Baptiste Leonetti’s Michael Douglas thriller “The Reach” will open Taormina’s new competition, which will see a panel of film-buff students as jurors.

Universal’s 3D “Jurassic World” will screen June 11 in the Greek theater as a pre-opening event.

A section dedicated to independent U.S. movies selected by Variety critics will also unspool.