In a bid to boost the US profile of the Taormina Film Festival, director Felice Laudadio has hired Steve Klain, Miramax's veteran New York-based international marketing director, as a deputy director.

The festival, which is non-competitive and screens only English-language movies in the Sicilian town's ancient Greek amphitheatre, has also received a significant three-year cash injection from new sponsor Banca Nazionale del Lavoro (BNL). The festival has been renamed the Taormina-BNL Film Fest.

Klain, who left his position at Miramax Films at the end of 2001, was responsible last year for bringing Apocalypse Now Redux to the festival. He will now work alongside deputy co-director Deborah Young.

"I am very honoured to join the Taormina Film Festival, which I have been following closely for the last three years. I believe that with greater financial resources, it has huge potential to compete with the major international festivals. There isn't another place in the world that has such a magical setting to present a film as the Teatro Greco."

Although the festival did pull a major coup last year with its July 4th screening of the Francis Ford Coppola movie against the backdrop of an erupting Mount Etna, it was one of few major pictures to premiere at the festival.

Ever since he became head of the festival in 2000, Laudadio has attempted to spearhead the festival's position as a European launchpad for US blockbusters, while encouraging broader summer programming in Italy. As such, he moved the dates of the festival forward to late June in 2001 and had originally planned an even earlier start in 2002.

But with still few Italian distributors appearing likely to release big films next summer, the festival's dates have now been moved back to their original later slot of July 6th-13th.

This year, the festival will host for the third time the Nastri d'Argento awards, Italy's second-highest film accolade. Legendary composer Ennio Morricone, whose credits include Italian director Sergio Leone's Spaghetti Westerns as well as The Mission and Cinema Paradiso, will receive a career Taormina Arte Diamond Award. He will also conduct a 190-piece orchestra on the stage of the Teatro Greco performing themes from the films of Leone, who will be the subject of a small retrospective.

The festival will also introduce two new competitive sidebars: the BNL International Short Film award, and "I Siciliani," for short films made by filmmakers born or living in Sicily.

The festival's full line-up will be unveiled on June 13th.