Taormina Film Festival Looks to Return to the Center Stage

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The 69th Taormina Film Festival boasts an impressive lineup of Italian and world premieres as it seeks to reboot and re-establish its status as a date to watch on the festival circuit. Located in the historical Sicilian town – its visibility recently getting an unlooked for boost with the second season of HBO’s ”The White Lotus” – will be hosting a series of screenings. The outdoor Teatro Antico will provide a suitably antique background for the Italian premiere of “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny,” with Harrison Ford, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Antonio Banderas, John Rhys-Davies, and Mads Mikkelsen in attendance.

The directorial debut of Italian artist Marco Perego, “The Absence of Eden,” will receive its world premiere. The film stars Perego’s wife Zoe Saldaña, Garrett Hedlund and Adria Arjona. The thriller tells the story of an undocumented immigrant fleeing a drug cartel whose path crosses with a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent in a crisis over the moral dilemmas of his job. An unlikely alliance forms as the two endeavor to save the life of a young girl.

Also getting a world premiere is supernatural period thriller “In the Fire,” directed by Conor Allyn, previously known for the Frank Grillo western “No Man’s Land.” The film sees the return to the screen of Amber Heard. She plays a psychiatrist in the late 19th century, called in to investigate the case of a young boy accused of demonic possession. Back in the horror genre with which she first made her name, she will no doubt be hoping for a reset similar to that aimed at by her ex-husband Johnny Depp with his recent appearance in the Cannes opening film “Jeanne Du Barry,” which will also be having its first Italian screening at the festival. Its director Maïwenn – no stranger herself to controversy – will be in attendance, although it is not thought Depp will be present.

Another controversy-adjacent film will be Francesco Cinquemani’s “Billie’s Magic World,” which stars Alec and William Baldwin along with Valeria Marini, Mia McGovern Zaini, Soraya Azzabi and Elva Trill. The children’s film is a big screen outing for the TV show’s “Puffins,” who seek to save a young girl, lured to a castle by a pair of villains played by Alec Baldwin and Marini.

Following its Sundance bow, Eddie Alcazar’s sci-fi thriller “Divinity,” gets an international premiere. The film features the invention of a serum that can stop aging and stars Stephen Dorff, Scott Bakula and Bella Thorne. Thorne will also be at the festival, curating a selection of short films entitled Influential Shorts and boasting a selection of films by celebrities and influencers such as Khabbaz Kamal and Eva Vik, and including Thorne’s own debut short “Paint Her Red.”

Two Italian films to have their world premieres will be the Italian comedy “The Worst Days,” directed by Edoardo Leo and Massimiliano Bruno and starring a host of familiar faces from the Italian comedy scene, and veteran Italian director Giorgio Amato’s “Lo Sposo Indeciso,” featuring Gianmarco Tognazzi, Ilenia Pastorelli, Stefano Pesce, Francesco Pannofino, Ornella Muti, Claudia Gerini and Giorgio Colangeli.

Two retrospectives have also been programmed. John Landis has selected a number of his own films accompanied by a selection of films by his contemporaries to give a history of Hollywood comedy. He will also be giving introductions and masterclasses throughout the festival. Willem Dafoe and Abel Ferrara’s long collaboration and friendship is the subject of another retrospective, and will feature the screenings of their work together from 1998’s “New Rose Hotel” to their most recent film “Sportin’ Life,” released in 2020. These retrospectives will be joined by a celebration of the 90th anniversary of Warner Bros. with a 25 film strong program and a special screening of a documentary about the storied studio.

The festival opens with the Pavarotti Forever Opening Gala, which will feature a selection of concert footage and documentaries along with guests from the pop and opera world. The proceeds will go to the Luciano Pavarotti Foundation.

Barrett Wissman, Taormina Film Festival’s executive and co-artistic director, along with Beatrice Venezi, told Variety earlier this month of his ambition to make Taormina a go-to for big studio releases but also: “Films that are not ostensibly always going to appeal to the huge general public, but might be made by really well-known filmmakers, or involving well-known actors and actresses but something that they’re doing on the cutting edge.”



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