From June 23 to July 1, 2023, the 69th Taormina Film Festival takes place in the homonym city, the movie festival was born in 1955 from the idea of some friends to enhance the Sicilian territory through cinema.
This year I had the opportunity to participate as a press officer and it was exciting and thrilling. Discovering the behind-the-scenes of the festivals, attending film premieres, participating in master classes… a full immersion that enriches mind and spirit.
The festival has a very rich program, especially with regard to screenings: between “Casa del Cinema” and “Palazzo dei Congressi”, some of the most famous films in the history of cinema, such as Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights, Stanley Kubrik’s The Shining, John Landis’s The Blues Brothers, Terry Jones’s Monthy Piton ‘s Life of Brian, Chris Columbus’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Vincent Minnelli’s An American in Paris, Kubrik’s 2001 A Space Odyssey and many, many more are shown throughout the festival, all in original language with Italian subtitles.
In addition – an equally important part of the Festival’s program – some of the filmmakers hold master classes in which they tell about their experience to help those who want to take such a beautiful and difficult path. But let’s go in order…
69° Taormina Film Festival: Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny
In the beautiful setting of Taormina’s “Teatro Antico” (Ancient Theatre), the movie’s main cast – in person! – presented the film: Harrison Ford, Mads Mikkelsen and Phoebe Waller-Bridge. The event was organized by Walt Disney Italia, and Walter Frigo, president of Walt Disney Italia, also came on stage.
I want to say a few words about Mads Mikkelsen: an actor whom I have always appreciated very much for his acting skills and who, live on stage, proved to be extremely nice as well as very charming. When asked how he felt when he was approached to be in the film, his answer was:
Well, I felt good… I would have played a cat or even a car! […] I used to see Indiana Jones when I was a kid and I dreamed of living those adventures, of becoming Indiana Jones, and now I finally became…the Nazi, the villain.
The Festival organization then honored the actors with a small surprise: a fireworks display to accompany some images from the film (you can see it on the stories at this link). Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, in theaters June 28, is the latest film in the Indy saga and is directed by James Mangold, produced by Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall and Simon Emanuel. Steven Spielberg and George Lucas are the executive producers. The soundtrack is composed by John Williams, composer of the music for every Indiana Jones adventure since the first film in the saga – Raiders of the Lost Ark – in 1981.
The real protagonist of Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is time.
It begins in the past, when a young Indy infiltrates the Nazis to recover an ancient artifact but is caught and must flee. A time jump then takes us to 1969 and here time is the protagonist in another way: it is the melancholy of time that has passed, of the lack of adventures for Professor Jones. Now his daily routine is made by half-hearted lectures at the university, students who do not listen to him, and the classic, reassuring routine of the “permanent position.” Routine which a young woman – Phoebe Waller-Bridge, dynamic and versatile, plays a completely unusual female figure – completely disrupts. Here time is represented by the passing of the baton: she is the daughter of the archaeologist who escaped from that Nazi train with Indy and is now looking for the same artifact that her father and the professor tried to retrieve from that train and that drove her father to madness. Nothing could make the now no longer young and athletic Indiana believe that that event will turn his life and time upside down, bringing back against an old enemy -again the Nazis-brilliantly played by Mads Mikkelsen, who never disappoints in the villain role.
An adventurous and different ending than usual, which dares a lot compared to the previous ones, perhaps to (really?) close the saga on a high note.
69° Taormina Film Festival: the masterclass with John Landis
As I mentioned, another highlight of the Festival are the masterclasses. I had the priviledge of attending John Landis’ one on Comedy in Cinema and it was, for me, the most exciting moment of the Festival. John Landis is truly a legend, the mirror of his films. He told about part of his life and adventures and conveyed pure joie de vivre and positive energy. An inspiration even before he was one of Hollywood’s most accomplished directors, actor and screenwriter.
Born in Chicago, his family moved to Los Angeles when he was just four months old, so he considers himself for all intents and purposes an Angelenos.
When he was 9 years old he saw “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad” at the movies – one of the biggest box-office hits that enshrined stop-motion special effects – and was so fascinated by how film could create worlds and stories, that he ran home and asked his mother how he could succeed in creating those worlds, too. Her answer was, “You have to be a filmmaker,” and from that day John spent every energy and every fund to realize that dream. At 16 he went to 20th Century Fox to ask for a job, lying about his age, and they offered him a position as a letter carrier, which he accepted. He also began answering Raquel Welch’s letters, which the actress received from soldiers engaged in Vietnam, and became very good at forging her signature and answering military men, who were persuaded that they were really talking to her (once to one of them he even sent a bra taken from the costume department).
Reaching the age of 19, he asked Fox for a real job in cinema, and they replied that if he could get to Belgrade, where they were filming “The Warriors,” they would have given him one. So he spent $800 for a one-way ticket to London, convinced it was near Belgrade. He found out the truth about the distance between the two cities once he got there, and some hippies helped him get closer by hitchhiking. It was the time of the Iron Curtain, however, and entering what was then Jogoslavia was impossible, so they suggested he would have needed to get there illegally by tying himself under a train. Incredibly, he did so and survived but once he reached his destination they told him that in order to get the job he would have needed to enter the country legally. So he was forced to go out again, illegally, and then re-enter legally. So he got his first job.
Later, he passed the assistant director’s exam with the best score of all but was denied a contract because he did not have a college degree. He asked how he could then become a director and was told the only way was to produce a film. And so he did, creating the very ugly – in his opinion – Slok, in 1973, financing it half himself and half through money he borrowed from friends and relatives. Despite the failure, however, he had now produced his film and could properly consider himself a filmmaker.
And from his mind came some of cinema’s greatest masterpieces: The Blues Brothers, An Armchair for Two, Coming to America, Animal House and many, many more.
In conclusion, the Taormina Film Fest is a treasure chest of opportunities – in a wonderful location – to learn from the greats but also to preview the film season ahead.
A must-see for fans and industry insiders alike.