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'The Lone Ranger' to Close Italy’s Taormina Festival

The Lone Ranger Horse Riding Silhouette - H 2012
Walt Disney Studio Motion Pictures
From 'The Lone Ranger'

The Sicilian fest, which was nearly forced to close down last year, is climbing back under the leadership of Mario Sesti and Tiziana Rocca.

ROME -- Italy’s Taormina Film Festival unveiled its lineup Tuesday, featuring a mix of international blockbusters, smaller dramas and comedies in its famous Teatro Antico venue, with a list of Hollywood A-Listers on tap, as the 59-year-old festival continues its return to good health after a near-death experience last year.

Organizers announced Tuesday that Gore Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger, which stars Armie Hammer as the masked title character and Johnny Depp as his sidekick Tonto, would close the festival June 22.

Already announced as the festival’s opener was Man of Steel, which will screen in Taormina as part of its European launch, with director Zack Snyder along with Russell Crowe and Michael Shannon, who play Superman’s biological father and sworn enemy, respectively, on hand for the much-hyped event.

Both films fit into Taormina's oft-revisted role as a launching pad for high-profile international launches, including Transformers in 2007, Toy Story 3 in 2010, followed by Kung Fu Panda 2 two years ago, and Disney/Pixar's Brave last year.

Between the two comics-inspired big-budget films will be a grab bag of offerings, including Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight, which follows Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004) in a series of romantic dramas starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy as a couple whose first encounter was on a train while exploring Europe; Danny Boyle’s Trance, a mystery drama about an art auctioneer who partners with a hypnotherapist to track down a lost painting; and Cha Cha Cha, a noir thriller, set in the dirty corners of Rome, from Italian director Marco Risi.
 
Also screening in the Teatro Antico are Song for Marion, a drama from Paul Andrew Williams about a widower pensioner’s efforts to reconnect with his estranged son; Conor Allyn’s Indonesia-set thriller Java Heat; and Parental Guidance, a comedy starring Billy Crystal and Bette Midler as old-fashioned grandparents, directed by Andy Fickman.
 
Joining Crowe and Shannon among the big names at the festival will be actors Jeremy Irons, Meg Ryan, and Marisa Tomei, along with Sicily-born Italian director Giuseppe Tornatore, who will participate in a round-table discussion on the film industry in Italy’s south with acclaimed Italian director Francesco Rosi. Rosi, 90, will participate via video link from his home in Rome.
 
Other initiatives on tap in Taormina: a panel with industry figures from Italy and Russia aimed at increasing co-productions between the two countries, and a collaboration with ANICA, Italy’s main audiovisual association. Ricardo Tozzi, ANICA’s president, was on hand for Tuesday’s announcement and said he believed Taormina had a key role to play in drumming up interest for the summer movie season, the slowest part of the year for cinema in Italy.
 
The Taormina event, one of Europe’s oldest film festivals, is known for its picturesque cliff side perch on Sicily’s northeast corner, with Mount Etna -- Europe’s largest active volcano -- visible from the town, whose Teatro Antico venue dates back 2,400 years, originally built by the Greeks for theater.
 
For the second consecutive year, Taormina will be without an international competition, a part of the event that was jettisoned last year after a series of high-profile budget problems along with the resignation of Deborah Young -- now international film editor for The Hollywood Reporter -- as the festival’s artistic director nearly resulted in the storied event being closed down.
 
Instead, it was pulled back from the brink by general manager Tiziana Rocca and artistic director Mario Sesti, who are back this year for their sophomore edition. Rocca said Tuesday the event’s budget this year was €1.4 million ($1.8 million), mostly from sponsorship, in-kind contributions from the city of Taormina, and backing from the regional Sicilian government. The budget is a big step up from last year, but still around half what it was at its peak during Young’s tenure.
 
In presenting the lineup Tuesday, Sesti said he had high hopes for the festival going forward.
 
“We have worked hard to make Taormina into a modern festival capable of attracting stars and interesting films, but still connected with its roots,” said Sesti, who is one of the founders of the eight-year-old International Rome Film Festival. Sesti said he would like to reintroduce an international competition in the festival in the future, if the budget allows it.

Twitter: @EricJLyman