Taormina Film Fest Loses Organizers, Celebrity Guests Over Infighting

Taormina's Greek Theater

Guests including Pierce Brosnan, Francis Ford Coppola, Russell Crowe and Tim Robbins were cancelled from the lineup.

The legal battles and political infighting of the historic Taormina Film Festival have reduced the 63-year-old celebration to rubble this year.

Traditionally Sicily’s largest fest, the event has throughout its history drawn big-name celebrities eager for a quick sojourn to the Mediterranean. Everyone from Elizabeth Taylor to Marlon Brando to Robert De Niro have taken to the stage of the ancient Greek Theater where the festival is held.

After a call was held this year for a new organizer, live broadcasting company Videobank won the contract. This infuriated publicist Tiziana Rocca, who ran the fest with her company Agnus Dei for the past five years. She appealed the decision, saying she was unfairly left out of the pitching competition.

Videobank held firm that there had been no wrongdoing. The company, which has worked with the event for the past 15 years to broadcast it throughout Italy, had plans to make this year’s festival its most technologically advanced ever. They put together a team, including artistic directors Silvia Bizio and Gianvito Casadonte, and in the past month confirmed a number of high-profile guests, with Russell Crowe as president of the jury and Francis Ford Coppola to present the 45th anniversary of The Godfather at the Greek Theater.

And then Tuesday, it was announced that because of Agnus Dei’s appeal, the Regional Administrative Court of Catania suspended both Videobank and Agnus Dei from festival duties. Videobank is appealing, which in itself takes time, and with the event slated to open June 14, there is no time left to organize a great festival. 

“We are not aware of the reasons that led to this stance, even if the outcome of the call does not leave any room for doubt that Videobank is today the only company to have the technical and economic capacity and organization to produce the Taormina Film Fest,” said Videobank’s Lino Chiechio.

Chiechio believes that the 2017 fest will now fall into the hands of an in-house organization, turning what was previously an international affair into a low-budget local event with no celebrities or industry guests.

“We thank all those who supported us, especially our 80 employees, and Gianvito Casadonte and Siliva Bizio, throughout these six long months of agony that have given very little in return," said Chiechio. "A special thanks to the employees of Taormina Arte, who worked in very difficult conditions without guarantee of a salary for more than a year.”

All parties involved voiced their disappointment and frustration in the decision. “We feel the need to tell our point of view and the successes we had achieved to Taormina. It is true that we had confirmed guests including Russell Crowe as the president of the jury, Eleanor and Francis Ford Coppola, Pierce Brosnan, Tim Robbins, Tim Roth and Gloria Steinem, among others, and unfortunately in these days we have been forced to cancel their presence in Taormina,” directors Bizio and Casadonte said Wednesday in a statement. “We remain hopeful that the legal problems that made this year’s festival impossible, under the artistic frame it deserves, will not prohibit the coming year to be realized with all its importance and prestige."

Some of the international guests that had been lined up will instead be welcomed at the Biografilm Bologna Festival, which overlaps with the date of Taormina. 

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