Sicily's Economic Crisis Claims Four Film Festivals

Taormina Teatro Antico

Sicily’s possible debt default sparked a selloff on European stock exchanges. The island’s festivals have already felt the pinch.

ROME – Italy’s economic crisis has hit the southern island region of Sicily harder than most of the rest of the country, forcing the closure or delay of at least four regional film festivals months after pushing the Taormina Film Festival, one of Europe’s oldest, to the brink of extinction.

Saddled with endemic corruption, a bloated public sector, high rates of tax evasion, dried up credit, and epic unemployment levels, the Sicilian economy has been locked into a slow economic growth track for years. But over the last week, the issue took on a European perspective when fears emerged that Italy’s southernmost region could be forced to default on its debt.

That news sparked a selloff in already jittery financial markets, not only in Italy but across Europe. The main indexes on the Italian stock exchange plummeted Monday, with trading in shares from several key banks halted because they quickly fell to the 5 percent limit in early trading. The selloff in equities spread across Europe, as bond yields in Italy and many countries rose, and the euro currency weakened against the dollar and other key currencies.

But fans of Italian cinema were already familiar with the problems in Sicily.

Monday was supposed to be the opening of the 12th edition of the International Festival of Frontier Cinema in Marzamemi, Sicily, near Syracuse. But the event had to be closed after the government pulled its backing and private sponsors could not be found. Organizers say they hope to revive the festival at a later date.

Similarly, the 8th edition of the CineNostrum event scheduled to get underway Saturday in Acicatena, near Catania, has been postponed but not officially cancelled as artistic director Mario Patane scrambles to find funding to replace the government funding that dried up.

The plug has also been pulled on the Northern Wind festival set to be held on the tiny island of Lampedusa, between Sicily and Africa, in late July and early August, though director Massimo Ciavarro says he hopes to find the resources to hold the event in September.

And the 16th edition of Children’s Film Festival in Giardini Naxos, between Catania and Taormina that had been scheduled for earlier this month will not be held at all with no hopes of it taking place this year.

“These are all cultural events that have characterized the Sicilian summer for years and their absence is being felt,” said Ornella Sgroi, a veteran film journalist based in Sicily. “The Festival of Frontier Cinema in particular has given life to the area that Oscar winning director Gabriele Salvatores chose for his film Sud (The South) in 1993. It’s a blow for film lovers but also for the Sicialian economy that enjoyed extra attention and increased tourism from these events.”

All this emerged just months after the 58-year-old Taormina Film Festival, one of Europe’s oldest and most established film festivals, nearly disappeared. When the Sicilian regional government pulled its funding from the event, it prompted the departure of artistic director Deborah Young -- the international film editor for The Hollywood Reporter -- putting the survival of the festival in doubt.

At least the Taormina story has a happy ending: the festival signed public relations specialist Tiziana Rocca to seek out private sources of funding for the storied festival, and soon after it selected Mario Sesti, a film critic and the former head of the International Rome Film Festival’s Extra sidebar, as artistic director. Together, they managed in just 40 days to salvage the event, which took place this year June 22-28 in a scaled back and shortened version with no international competition. Now battle tested, they promise a full-fledged edition in 2013.


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