There was a surprise at the Cannes Film Festival screening of Al Gore’s ecodoc An Inconvenient Truth. No, it wasn’t the packed Salle Bunuel on the fifth floor of the Palais des Festivals giving Gore a standing ovation before and after the screening. (“In all my years of politics,” Gore modestly told the crowd, “I’ve never had that long a standing ovation.”) No, it wasn’t how he was the model of self-deprecation. (“I never thought in a million years that my little slideshow would bring me to the red carpet in Cannes.”) But I’m told the Hollywood crowd was stunned by the presence of past Paramount Pictures boss Sherry Lansing at the screening hosted her replacement, present Paramount Pictures boss Brad Grey. It was awkward.
Not that Sherry didn’t have a right to be at Cannes; her husband, director Billy Friedkin, had the movie, Bug, screening there. But why go to the Paramount event? After all, she didn’t greenlight the picture: that bragging right belongs to Paramount Vantage topper John Lesher, who scooped it up at Sundance. And she wasn’t a Gore insider. Sure, she gave to Gore during the 2000 race, but she was a John Kerry supporter during the 2004 contest. About the guy she casually calls “Johnny”, Lansing told me back then, “I never supported anyone as early on as John. I agreed with his positions and I found that he’s a man of principle.” She didn’t waver even when Gore looked likely to run again, or Howard Dean became No. 1 in every poll, or Kerry’s candidacy looked DOA before the first primary vote had even been cast. Hollywood pals asked her to meet with frontrunner Dean. “No, I’m a 100% John Kerry supporter,” she told them.
With the Iowa caucuses fast approaching, Lansing threw a Kerry fundraiser with her husband (whose own friendship with Kerry went back decades to when Friedkin dated Kerry’s first wife). Even with the added draw of singer Carole King, Sherry wasn’t sure she could fill her home. “I was really panicked,” she admitted. “Because at the time John was just polling 1%, and everyone was jumping ship.” When Kerry arrived at the party at the end of a long day of campaigning, he was inexplicably upbeat, telling her, “Everything’s going great. Dean’s going to implode, and we’re going to win this thing.” His comments made an indelible impression on Lansing, and not just because they proved prophetic. “That’s when I knew he was going to win. To me, the mark of a true hero is how you handle it when things aren’t going well. I saw for myself why he should be president.” Alas, Kerry’s campaign did not have a Hollywood ending.