De Niro picks up Taormina Arte Award

Actor's Q&A event at fest interrupted by impromptu film pitch

TAORMINA, Italy -- The Taormina Film Festival Master Class hosted by actor Robert De Niro Sunday turned into an impromptu film pitching session. An insistent member of the audience interrupted a question-and-answer event with journalists to ask the two-time Oscar-winning actor if he would consider making a film about two family members murdered by the Sicilian Mafia.

The emotion-laden question came just as organizers were wrapping up the hour-long event. The questioner thrust a photo -- ostensibly of his murdered cousins -- into the startled De Niro's hands. The actor did not reply and he left with the photo, while the questioner was escorted away by security.

While the questioner cast some unexpected light on the Sicilian region's ongoing struggles against organized crime, it was also a scene-stealing conclusion to what had been an unusually informative session, following the screening of De Niro's 2006 directorial effort "The Good Shepherd."

Asked about his taste for directing more films in the future, the 66-year-old De Niro said he'd likely only direct "two or three" more films in his lifetime, including one or two sequels to "The Good Shepherd," an intellectual spy thriller set during the early years of the Cold War. De Niro said he envisioned a second film starting in 1961, when "The Good Shepherd" ends and spanning until the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall. A third installment, he said, would start after the fall of the Berlin Wall and go forward to the present time.

Regarding upcoming acting projects, De Niro spoke about an "ambitious" new project with director Martin Scorsese, who has already directed several of De Niro's best known films, including "Taxi Driver," "Raging Bull," and "Goodfellas."

But De Niro said the film was not "Sinatra," in which De Niro has been rumored to play Dean Martin, with Al Pacino in the title role -- "Yeah, I've heard I was supposed to be in that film," De Niro said -- but rather a story based on Charles Brandt's 2005 novel "I Heard You Paint Houses," which is based on the story of Frank "The Irishman" Sheeran, a hit man who claimed to have shot iconic U.S. mob boss Jimmy Hoffa who mysteriously disappeared in 1975. "Painting Houses" is an old-time organized crime euphemism for murder.

Later in the day, De Niro was presented with the Taormina Arte Award, the festival's top award for achievement in the cinema industry. De Niro is the second of five figures to be presented with the award at the June 12-18 event, following Italian director Marco Bellocchio, who was given the prize on Saturday.

Also on Sunday, designer Valentino Garavani received the City of Taormina honor, and Gareth Edwards' horror film "Monsters" screened in the festival's famous Teatro Antico under threatening skies.
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