Documentary, Drama, Sport
Runtime: 1 hr 11 min
Director: Philip Walsh
A theatrical documentary about the rise and fall of the Florio dynasty in Sicily, the longest running road race in the world from 1906 to 1977 – the Targa Florio – and the memories of personalities who watched and took part in these incredible races.
A documentary drama film
The Targa Florio was a Sicilian mountain road race that, in 1906, gave birth to an era of motorsport still going today. Dreamt up by Vincenzo Florio, the younger son of a Sicilian entrepreneurial dynasty, it ran until 1977 and was considered both totally insane and an absolute must by drivers and manufacturers alike.
A Sicilian Dream is a film that journeys into the heart of this story – exploring the intrigue and revelations. We are taken on this journey by one of Italy’s pre-eminent dreamers – Francesco da Mosto, a Venetian architect, historian and incurable romantic. He invites Alain de Cadenet – an independent racing car constructor and driver to join him and discover what compels men and women to seek the glory of winning this death-defying race.
Forty years after nearly dying in the Targa Florio, Alain de Cadenet retraces the route of the legendary Sicilian mountain race that ignited the island and the motoring world. Driving the torturous route and tracing its evolution along with world events, they reveal its allure from the romantic times of the Belle Époque adventures to its deadly conclusion.
Alain de Cadenet is a Renaissance man who’s had a life of adventure. But there is at least one horrific memory that he’d like to shut the door on forever. He crashed his Lola prototype car and nearly died in the Targa Florio. He was pulled from the burning wreckage by a random stranger, a Sicilian farmer who found him unconscious. To get rid of that nightmare, he’s going to drive the Targa Florio route one more time, and see it instead as the mother of road racing, the glorious race that ignited the world and gave birth to legends and dreams.
Francesco da Mosto is a man, a Count with roots in two islands – Sicily and Venice, where he lives in the ancestral palace of his father’s family on the Grand Canal. For Alain, he is the perfect companion, a half-Sicilian historian who can help him uncover the magic of the Targa Florio. For Francesco, Alain’s invitation to drive the route with him is the perfect opportunity to discover more about the race that is part of the lifeblood of Sicily, and in doing so, connect with his Sicilian side, a part of him that he feels is missing. Francesco feels a kinship with Vincenzo Florio; he suspects they are both dreamers and have a quirky sense of adventure, like many islanders.
He leaves his Venetian home by boat, and meets Alain in Sicily at the ‘Tribune’ the decaying classical starting point of the race. During this opening sequence we intercut with scenes that hit home immediately the importance of this race. We see the twisting circuit with 100 year old period racing cars that are still preserved and capable of unbelievable speeds with their enormous engines. We get our first inkling of how dangerous the course was. In dramatic recreations we see Vincenzo Florio at the wheel of a 1903 Panhard car. In 1906, all Vincenzo wanted was to race, have fun, and help Sicily in the process. He meets Felice Nazzaro coming from Turin to deliver a fast Fiat car. Felice stays for four years as Florio’s mechanic and companion, wins the 1907 race in a FIAT, and eventually returns to Turin to build his own cars. We see Francesco and Alain driving a 1913 Nazzaro, similar to the one in which Felice won the 1913 Targa Florio Giro, by then a 600 mile race round the entire island.
Could Vincenzo possibly have known that the races he created would, for three quarters of a century, mirror the fortunes of the island, and indeed, of all Europe?. Could he have foretold its impact? His dying dream was that the Targa would not be forgotten. The film demonstrates that the dream is fulfilled, it continues in the minds and souls of many including the children who were born later and the owners of the 100 year old racing cars returning and reliving the challenges of the circuit.
Francesco is greeted by Silvana Paladino; the closest living relative of Vincenzo, whom she thought of as a grandfather. She is a link to the man himself, and shows him the home and memorabilia which she inherited with her husband. She remembers Vincenzo’s boyhood passion for all things mechanical and new – the passion that led him to create the race is revealed here and put into the context of the times; the times of the new art form in Italy called Futurism. Vincenzo was a child of the Belle Époque and his race was a mirror for what was happening in the world. It was about dreaming, trying new things, and new technology. Europe was at peace. It was a time for adventure. It was a time for the rich and the nobility to enjoy travel and witness the incredible feats of endurance shown by the intrepid drivers of these monster vehicles. Cars with no front brakes, no windscreens or safety belts and mechanics needed to keep the cars running and change tyres that rarely lasted for many laps of the 90 mile convoluted circuit.
Dramatic recreations in original locations give us the story in 1899 of Vincenzo’s first motor vehicle – a De Dion motor tricycle in which he raced against a horse and a cyclist. The horse won!
Despite the dangerous course, there were no real tragedies.The race was on tracks that had only before seen donkey traffic. There were no filling stations; spectators provided petrol cans en route and pushed cars out of ditches. The Sicilian people embraced it, lining the road in droves, and jumping in to help out when a driver was in trouble.
As Francesco and Alain drive the circuit in a series of vintage cars, including Alain’s own Targa winning Alfa Romeo, they take us through the stories that make up the history of the race and of Vincenzo Florio. They are grouped thematically, revealing the different aspects that made the race unique and significant. For example, we illustrate the circuit’s renowned twisting curves with the story of drivers painting rocks and trees with secret signals to themselves to signpost upcoming turns, and with the story of Varzi’s Alfa Romeo with fuel leaks whist still racing – and catching fire. Alain de Cadenet tells us he’s never before seen the glorious mountain vistas he’s driving past today, because when he raced, he couldn’t take his eyes off the road for a second. To do so could mean plunging off a cliff at the next bend.
In the story of English driver Cyril Snipe, recreated with an original 1912 SCAT car, we see the toll that kind of driving took on the drivers – Snipe fell asleep exhausted on the roadside after driving continuously all the previous day and night. After an hour asleep, it took a bucket of water over the head to wake him before he went on to win.
As each new aspect of the race is revealed, Alain comes closer to embracing the magic of the race and letting go of the crash, while layer after layer is peeled away from Francesco. He discovers more of the missing Sicilian half of himself with every new car driven, every new village on the race circuit visited, every story told. Along with Alain and Francesco, we come to see that the race belongs to all Sicilians, not just to the drivers.
We move out of the Belle Époque and into the era between the wars. The world has a new social and economic structure and a loss of innocence that is reflected in the Targa Florio and in the life of its founder. The race becomes more dangerous, recording its first driver death in 1926. The Florio family see a reversal of fortunes and Vincenzo Florio loses his grip.
The post-war era of peace and stability in Europe, seen as the Golden Age of sports car racing,hits the Targa Florio. This is a time when local hero and school teacher Nino Vaccarella wins three times. We hear from Nino, the race’s greatest proponent, about how he grew up dreaming of winning, because the Targa Florio is Sicily, and Ferrari Lancia and Alfa Romeo fought battles with Porsche and a Mercedes driven by Stirling Moss.. British drivers Brian Redman and Vic Elford have epic wins for Porsche. Vincenzo Florio flags off the drivers in the 1955 race that marks the Targa’s return to glory, and he is finally able to die poor but happy.
But, like the world, the race is becoming too dangerous. The stakes are higher and the crashes, when they come, are deadlier. In 1973, the global economy founders with the start of the OPEC oil embargo, and a fatal crash in 1971 signals the end of the Targa race as part of the world championship. In 1977 it is stopped mid-way and forever when a car ploughs into a group of spectators.
We hit home those end times for the race as Alain de Cadenet revisits the location of the crash that nearly killed him, until he was pulled free by a Sicilian farmer. In an emotional scene, Alain meets, for the first time, the son of the man who saved him. As a 12 year old, he witnessed and recalls the action of the crash, enabling Alain to come the full circle from his racing days.
For Francesco, the circle is also complete. As the two men roar down Buonfornello Straight by the sea and into Floriopolis, his inner journey, as well as his physical one, is complete. By connecting with the Targa Florio, Francesco has reconnected with his Sicilian roots, exposing the half of himself that has been missing. He feels complete.
In different ways, the Targa Florio is in the blood. In the blood of Alain, Francesco: Vincenzo, the race and the island.
It is not forgotten.