Translating a Night in a 2000 year-old Greek Theatre – Pointers for Film Festival Interpreting

The Taormina Film Festival in Sicily attracts some big names – Richard Gere was this year’s drawcard bringing the town to a standstill; Kate Ritchie was also there and is our guest writer…

A night under the stars overlooking the Mediterranean in an ancient theatre – a hard act to follow and the film didn’t measure up – When We Were Young with Naomi Watts and Ben Stiller. Richard Gere was probably ruminating on that one! At the same time, the audience was going wild for some young movie stars we’d never heard of.

Translation, an ancient and honourable art in ancient Greece, emerged as important at this festival. The film was subtitled in Italian and we all seemed to laugh at the same bits (a good sign) – reminded me of Crocodile Dundee many years ago in Hong Kong. We were the only ones laughing at lines like “Call that a knife?” [translation: this is a knife]. Anyway, back to the Italian Language – western stars were able to engage somewhat with the Taormina audience through an interpreter as well as win them over with Italian expressions like “Grazie mille” which I resolved to try at the next restaurant!

Nevertheless, I’ve been to my share of film festivals and often the interpreting doesn’t work very well, I was keen to see how they do it in Italy.

The first thing that struck me about the interpreter in Taormina was the sensible footwear; everyone else in the film business in the ancient cobblestoned streets was decked out in 6 inch beauties!

The second thing was team work. Tiziana Rocca, the host of the night, kept interrupting and taking over from the interpreter which was confusing for the audience and the guests and the interpreter who, despite this, maintained a smile.

Thirdly, staging – a hand held microphone, an interpreter, without a note book, interpreting one-way only (into Italian) when an opportunity arose. It was piecemeal and confused.

Finally, Taormina’s Film Festival doesn’t feel the need to stick an ‘international’ in its name – although TIFF does have a nice ring to it, doesn’t it.

So for film festivals – international – or otherwise – good interpreting is important. If you are inviting guest speakers who don’t speak English (or the local lingo), you are wasting your money without it.


  1. Brief the interpreter/s in advance and expect them to do homework on the subject, clients and event, eg watch the relevant film/s
  2. Proper tools – equip them with a microphone on a stand, or lapel so they can take notes
  3. Make sure they do take notes and don’t rely on memory
  4. Position them in the centre so they can hear and interpret for all parties
  5. Ensure that they interpret in both directions –the audience and interlocutors need to follow
  6. Pause after every few sentences to allow for interpreting
  7. For questions from the audience – if they aren’t mic-ed – repeat the question and then interpret it – everyone can follow.
  8. Hire proper, qualified interpreters, not bilinguals with no training – you’ll see a big difference and a happy audience.

Got a question? We’d love to hear from you


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