Sophia Loren and Terry Gilliam Among Highlights of Taormina Fest

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The legendary actress and offbeat director join Lawrence and Jon Kasdan at the picturesque Sicilian event that is transforming itself into a destination for comedies and horror films.

ROME – Appearances from acting icon Sophia Loren and director Terry Gilliam, and screenings of the latest film projects from both Lawrence Kasdan and his son Jon Kasdan will be among the highlights of the 58th edition of the Taormina Film Festival, which announced its full lineup Monday.

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The cliffside Sicilian festival, which nearly closed down earlier this year amid financial problems and a shakeup of the event’s leadership, is transforming itself from its long-time role as showcase for auteur directors to a more populist festival that will focus on comedies and horror films.

“Until now, there has never been a serious festival about comedies,” newly-appointed artistic director Mario Sesti said at the program announcement.

The arrival of Loren, Gilliam, and the Kasdans will help draw attention to the event, which will also feature a special screening of Walt Disney/Pixar’s Brave, Fox’s The Three Stooges.

With a nod toward its art house traditions, the festival will also show some less mainstream comedies that include Jannacke Systad Jacobsen’s Norwegian coming of age comedy, Fa meg Pa, for faen (Turn Me On, Dammit!); French director Frederic Beigbeder’s L’amour dure trois ans (Love Lasts Three Years), a comedy about a marriage falling apart; and Et maintenant on va ou? (Where Do We Go Now?) from Lebaniese director Nadine Labaki, an unlikely comedy about Christian/Muslim tensions in a village.

The horror aspect of the festival will be highlighted by two U.S. productions: Mauro Borrelli’s The Gostmaker, and last year’s remake of The Thing from Matthijs van Heijningen. Appropriately, both films will screen at midnight at the festival’s signature 3,000-seat Teatro Antico venue.

The Teatro Antico, build by Greek colonists 2,700 years ago, will also host the screening of Lawrence Kasdan’s Darling Companion, which stars Diane Keaton and Kevin Kline as a married couple with comedic tensions related to their dog, and The First Time, a teenage romantic comedy from Jon Kasdan. Sesti said it will be the first time the two Kasdans had films screen in the festival.

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But the arrival of Loren and Gilliam will take center stage at the event. Loren, who Sesti called “a global ambassador of Italian style,” will receive a Taormina Arte Award at the Teatro Antico and will appear in a roundtable event with popular Italian comedian, actor, and director Carlo Verdone. Gilliam will receive his own Taormina Arte honor and will host a master class.

With the announcement eclectic lineup selected during a five-week flurry of activity since Sesti was named to the artistic director post, Taormina appears to have pulled itself back from the brink of collapse. PR specialist Tiziana Rocca, the festival’s general manager, on Monday pronounced it in good financial health due to private sector backing, and Taormina mayor Mauro Passalacqua said Monday that the scaled back version of the event this year would be temporary, and he promised a full schedule in 2013.

The festival will get underway Friday and run through June 28.