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Italy's Taormina Fest Wraps With Big Award for Sophia Loren

Sophia Loren Golden Globes - P 2012
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The 58-year-old festival, in danger of disappearing just weeks ago, ended on a high note Thursday with a lifetime achievement prize for the iconic actress, as well as a live screening of an emotional win for the national soccer team.

TAORMINA, Sicily – The 58th edition of the Taormina Film Festival concluded Thursday on a high note, with an enthusiastic response for Tao Arte honoree and Italian cinema icon Sophia Loren, and a dramatic 2-1 victory for the Italian national soccer team in a game screened in the festival’s famous and historical Teatro Antico venue.

But the biggest victory may be that the storied festival even managed to take place, just weeks after it appeared it might fade away amid budget issues and the hasty departure of its artistic director.

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General manager Tiziana Rocca and artistic director Mario Sesti had just 40 days to pull together the event in the picturesque Sicilian town of Taormina. The festival was shortened to six days and had its main competition temporarily jettisoned. But locals and Italian film fans breathed a sigh of relief that one of Europe’s oldest festivals -- Taormina’s first edition took place in 1954 -- did not disappear all together.

“We are happy to be here, happy the festival is here, and eager to work hard to make sure Taormina keeps its place among Italy’s top festivals in the future,” Taormina mayor Mauro Passalacqua said in a briefing Thursday.

Officials promised a longer version of the festival, complete with an international competition, for the 59th edition next year.

The festival was not without its share of technical and logistic problems this year, however, not the least of which involved a significant reshuffling of the schedule over the last two days to accommodate an untimely two-hour power outage and the Italian national soccer team’s advancement to the European championship semifinals against Germany.

With the soccer game on Thursday night, the festival moved the screening of French director Bruno Podalydes’ nior comedy Adieu Berthe – L’enterrement de meme (Granny’s Funeral) -- the film that had been scheduled to screen in the 2,700-year-old Teatro Antico Thursday -- to an indoor screen in the afternoon in order to make way for the game, which nearly filled the 3,000-seat venue. The game even forced the prize ceremony for the gracious Loren to be shortened to just ten minutes so it could take place during halftime of the game, with Italy up 2-0 after a pair of goals from Sicilian-born striker Mario Balotelli. Even Loren, whose fame and 60-year career wowed the audience, said she was caught up in the match.

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“I am very honored to win this wonderful award,” she said on the lifetime achievement prize. “But this soccer game is really taking my breath away.”

Similarly, Italian comic, actor, and director Carlo Verdone, whose tribute “Red, White, and Verdone” was delayed until after the game, took the stage minutes after the game and declared, “What an extraordinary night to be here in Taormina!” The remark sparked wild applause.

By winning, the Italian team avoided another possible conflict. Had the side lost, it would have appeared in the consolation final Saturday night, in direct conflict with the Nastri d’Argento, the country’s oldest film awards, set to take place in the same Teatro Antico on Saturday.

Among the day’s films, Adieu Berthe – L’enterrement de meme was well received despite being moved into an afternoon slot in the festival’s Palazzo di Congressi venue. Another French comedy, La Clinique de l’amour (Sex, Lies, and Surgery), which premiered in France just a day earlier, screened in the Palazzo di Congressi to mostly positive reviews.

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The festival’s heavy emphasis on comedy is part of a trend that Sesti, the artistic director, said he wants to build on in next year’s edition. The august festival has long been a home for art house films, but Sesti says he wants the event to evolve into the first international festival that is “serious about comedy” – focusing on quality comedies from around the world.

“I think we can have something really special once we have more than a few weeks to pull the festival together,” Sesti said in an interview mid-way through the festival.