What's On in Sicily - Music and Film

Taormina Film Festival

Words by John Behnsalia and Silvia Donati

Our What’s On in Italy series, which looks at Italy’s major events and festivals each month, is taking a regional spin: every month, we will focus on a different Italian region to help you better plan your visits around great events that you may want to attend.

This month we will focus on Sicily, and we start by looking at music and film festivals that have been entertaining audiences for years.

Stay tuned for more fun events in Sicily, from food festivals to religious celebrations to historical reenactments, and much more!

TAORMINA JAZZ FESTIVAL – Taormina, July to August

There's a lot to be said for enjoying jazz music in beautiful surroundings. The Taormina Jazz Festival ticks all the boxes when it comes to these two requirements. The views in the Taormina Public Gardens are simply outstanding and offer a lush backdrop to the aural treats – you will be able to see Mount Etna and the Ionian Sea, making this a truly spectacular locale.

The music is none too shabby either! The Taormina Jazz Festival aims to combine traditional jazz music with innovation and experimentation, bringing together the best of both worlds: an enjoyable and tuneful experience to also offer jazz music fans unusual and inventive takes on the form. The event celebrated its fifth anniversary last year and attracted names such as keyboardist Jason Lindner, the Francesco Bearzatti Quintet and the Danilo Rea Trio.

YPSIGROCK MUSIC FESTIVAL – Castelbuono, August

The 1990s were the decade in which indie rock broke through in a big way. Following the straight-ahead pop and rock sound of the previous decade, indie rock was now storming the charts and has been ever since.

With that in mind, the Ypsigrock Music Festival in Castelbuono caters for all indie music fans with some of the biggest names in the field from across the globe. Since the event began in 1997, the festival has attracted big names such as Primal Scream, Kula Shaker, Mogwai and dEUS. 2014's festival alone was headlined by acts such as Belle & Sebastian, Anna Calvi and Wild Beasts.

What makes this event so unique is the juxtaposition between the modern day sounds and its medieval surroundings. The main stage is set below the Castle of Castelbuono, and is surrounded by medieval arches and staircases – it's a beautiful locale to soak up the latest indie rock sounds, and for all fans of this genre, Ypsigrock is a must.

BLUES AND WINE SOUL FESTIVAL – itinerant, August

It's touted as the largest wine and music festival in the world, and with 12 editions under its belt, the Blues and Wine Soul Festival has earned its reputation as an unmissable, hugely enjoyable event.

It's a heady brew of first class blues, soul and R&B music, the finest wines and the finest locations. The festival was initiated in the summer of 2003 and since then has catered equally well for fans of soul music and wines. For wine connoisseurs, there are special workshops, professional experts and tastings.

Last year's event boasted a strong line-up of musicians including the Joe Castellano Super Blues and Soul Band, Daria Biancardi and the Soul Caravan and Audrey Madison Turner. For anyone looking to soak up the best soulful sounds in the world and sample the finest wines around, the Blues And Wine Soul Festival is an unbeatable combination.

ETNA BLUES FESTIVAL – Mascalucia, July or August 

The small town of Mascalucia in the province of Catania is home to a major blues festival, the Etna Blues, hosting big names and up-and-coming bands  of the international blues scene each year in the summer.

In the past years, this festival by Mount Etna has attracted musicians of the caliber of Earl Bynum, Carey and Lurrie Bell, Popa Chubby, Marcia Ball, Bryan Lee, Joe Bonamassa, John Mayall, Bettye Lavette, Willy Deville, Ana Popovic, Deitra Farr, and the unforgettable soul-blues of Solomon Burke.

The two-day event takes place in the beautiful background of the Mascalucia amphitheater in the Trinità Manenti park, taking audiences on a musical trip to the American South, at the foothills of Mount Etna.   

TAORMINA FILM FEST - Taormina, June

Italy’s oldest film festival, the Taormina Film Fest began in 1955 under the name Rassegna Cinematografica Internazionale di Messina e Taormina. The event, which moved permanently to Taormina in 1971, has hosted over the years many stars of international cinema, including Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren, Cary Grant, Robert De Niro, Colin Firth, Audrey Hepburn, Gregory Peck, and Tom Cruise, among others.

It takes place in the gorgeous background of Taormina’s Greek Theatre every June.  The event hosts the award ceremony for the Nastro d'Argento in Italian cinema, a competition in which many international films preview. However, as the film magazine Variety put it, the Taormina Film Fest appears to be a festival “where cinema takes a backseat to glamour”. So enjoy the celebrities and feel like you’re in Hollywood!

FESTIVAL INTERNAZIONALE DEL CINEMA DI FRONTIERA – Marzamemi, July 

The International Festival of Frontier Cinema turns the picturesque tiny town of Marzamemi near Syracuse into a movie setting attracting a host of international film experts and movie buffs.

For seven days, Marzamemi Becomes an open-air movie theater. As explained by Nello Correale, founder and artistic director of the festival, the term “frontier” is applied here in its broadest meaning, not only referring to territorial, cultural and linguistic rontiers, but also frontiers of the soul. Films showing at the event aim to highlight the analogies, rather than the differences, among people and places.