'Transformers' steels spotlight at Taormina

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TAORMINA, Sicily -- DreamWorks/Paramount's "Transformers," the mega-budget summer film based on the 1980s animated series, launched the summer season Thursday at the 53rd annual Taormina Film Festival with the festival's most enthusiastic response and extra-tight anti-piracy measures.

The crowds at Taormina's famous 5,000-seat cliffside Greek Theatre were enthusiastic, gathering more than two hours before the film started and screaming and clapping as a specially made short film and laser light show marked the start of the evening's events.

"This is an awesome place for a film like this," said 18-year-old Michael Formis, on vacation from Winter Park, Fla. "The setting and the atmosphere is just unreal."

Although screenings earlier in the week in South Korea and Australia and a European premiere in Spain the night before meant the Taormina showing was technically an Italian premiere, Paramount made it clear that Thursday night's screening was the official world launch for the film.

"This is a worldwide film, and with its dates and its reputation, Taormina was a perfect springboard for us," producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura said.

Lucia Puenzo, the Argentinean director of "XXY" -- the provocative story of a teenage hermaphrodite that premiered here Wednesday -- officially welcomed director Michael Bay and the "Transformers" cast to a packed house at the 2,300-year-old venue, presenting Bay with a Harry Winston watch as the recipient of a Taormina Arte Award.

At a question-and-answer session earlier in the day, Taormina artistic director Deborah Young said the onstage juxtaposition of the directors of a blockbuster like "Transformers" and an art house film like "XXY" was a good metaphor for the 53-year-old Taormina event.

"This festival is all about bringing different cultures and perspectives together," Young said. "You couldn't ask for a better example than that."

For the briefing, Paramount decked out a large conference room at the Grand Hotel Timeo to fit the futuristic feel of the film, with director Bay, di Bonaventura and the film's star, Shia LaBeouf, on hand for a lighthearted exchange with a standing-room-only crowd of journalists.

LaBeouf stole the show with his enthusiasm. "No doubt, this film is a really big deal back where I come from," the 21-year-old said, shaking his head.

"Shia, it's a big deal all over the world," Bay corrected him.

"Well, I haven't been anywhere before this," LaBeouf said, laughing. "I don't know what's going on all over the world."

Paramount took extra steps to prevent pirating of the film, with tight security at the gates of the Greek Theatre and proctors roaming the seats to prevent illegal filming of the event.

Although the "Transformers" premiere dominated the day at the festival, several other films had their moment on one of Taormina's silver screens, including screenings of Aleksei Mizgiryov's Russian crime drama "Kremen" (Hard-Hearted); "13m2," a thriller from France's Barthelemy Grossman; and 1999 coming-of-age story "El Medina" (The City), the last film in the Egyptian tribute series. "XXY" also unspooled in a reprise screening.
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