Taormina Fest Switching Focus to Comedy, Horror Under New Leadership

Mario Sesti - P 2012
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Mario Sesti - P 2012

The future of the 58-year-old Sicilian festival was in doubt a few months ago, but Mario Sesti and Tiziana Rocca are working overtime to pull it back from the brink.

ROME -- After helping to pull Sicily’s 58-year-old Taormina Film Festival back from the brink of fading away, new editorial director Mario Sesti says he wants to make people laugh and scream.

The Sesti, a 54-year-old film critic, made a name for himself as the head of the International Rome Film Festival’s provocative Extra sidebar. While Sesti’s role with Extra is still up in the air amid a separate shakeup at the Rome festival, he was named to replace Deborah Young as artistic director in Taormina a month ago.

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It was the departure of Young, international film editor for The Hollywood Reporter, and dramatic cutbacks in economic support from local and regional government entities that helped cast Taormina’s future in doubt. But the appointment of public relations specialist Tiziana Rocca as the festival’s general manager in April and Sesti a month later helped Taormina start to get back on track. Rocca helped secure new sources of private funding, and Sesti worked to rebrand a scaled-back version of the event.

In an exclusive interview with THR, Sesti said he wants to recast the picturesque cliffside festival as a destination for well-done comedic and horror films of all kinds.

“People have been coming to Taormina for entertainment dating back thousands of years,” said Sesti, referring in part to the festival’s famous 2,700-year-old Teatro Antico, which was built on the site of previous amphitheatres. “It has seen Greek tragedies, Roman dramas. But if you think about it, the most basic emotions when you are being entertained are to laugh or be scared. We want to tap into that.”

Sesti took the artistic director job just a scant six weeks before this year’s edition, which will take place June 22-28 -- too little time to leave his full mark on the event. The full lineup will not be released until Monday, but a few indications that have trickled out have given an idea of what to expect.

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For example, the Teatro Antico will host a special screening of 3D animated feature Brave, the latest Disney/Pixar production, in which a young princess defies tradition and finds herself beset by a curse she must undo with bravery and archery skills. On Monday, the festival also announced it would screen French director Frederic Beigbeder’s L’amour dure trois ans (Love Lasts Three Years), a comedy about a marriage falling apart.

Jon Kasdan, son of noted director Lawrence Kasdan, is expected to make the trip to Taormina with his second directorial effort, the romantic comedy The First Time, in what Sesti hinted could be part of a larger surprise that will be revealed Monday.

For horror lovers, the festival will host the Italian premiere of The Thing, Matthijs van Heijningen’s remake of the 1982 mystery and horror classic. The focus on comedy and horror will be even stronger starting with next year’s edition, Sesti said.

“This year’s event will definitely have aspects worth paying attention to, with some significant announcements Monday,” he said. “But this is still just a start.”