The 25th annual gala amFAR Cannes charity event, Cinema Against AIDS, took place even in the shadow of Harvey Weinstein’s downfall — the man who ruled over this event for almost all of the past quarter century. Not this time, though. And though the star quotient was lower than usual, his presence wasn’t missed in any major way. Pierce Brosnan, bringing in over $1 million for his Bob Dylan painting, and perennial Chris Tucker and Nicole Scherzinger were among the few celebrities onstage. Paris Hilton held forth a couple of times, and there was Ellie Goulding as well as Corey Hawkins present, among others.
But mainly the standard format of the event, with an auction for pricey and extravagant items and a fashion show, were the highlights, mixed in with terrific performances from Sting and Shaggy doing a three-song set, the legendary Grace Jones doing exactly what you would expect, as well as Jason DeRulo closing things out in a lively way. Pharrell Williams had originally been announced but dropped out, as did Sharon Stone, a frequent amFAR presence here as auctioneer, who cited work opportunities as the reason she had to beg off. In the past we have seen a stronger star presence, like Leonardo DiCaprio and Will Smith.
Looking to get away from the stench of the Weinstein scandal — particularly a questionable transaction he made with former amFAR chairman Kenneth Cole, in which reportedly auction funds were used to pay off backers of his Broadway show Finding Neverland (and which also forced Cole to resign from the org and the event) — the annual gala otherwise looked like business as usual, even if the ultimate fundraising goal was lower than expected. For instance, the biggest ticket item, as usual, was the auction of the 31 gowns worn in the fashion show curated by Carine Roitfeld, back again this year. Ultimately, they went for $1.6 million, about half the record $3 million garnered last year.
Showing the value of star power, Brosnan’s impressive Dylan painting was the only item on display that went over the million-dollar mark with $1.2 mil, and the actor was almost giddy with excitement over reaching that unexpected level. He started painting 20 years ago and only puts them up for sale in charity auctions like this one.
Other results included $750,000 for a 1964 S3 Bentley Convertible, $550,000 for an Absolute McLaren, $450,000 for a replica of Michelangelo’s David, a cool half million for a Bernar Venet sculpture, $750,000 for a Joe Bradley oil on canvas, and $425,000 for five furs previously owned by legendary amFAR pioneer Elizabeth Taylor. AI Weiwei’s Iron Root cast-iron piece went for just over a half million as well, but a five-night stay at Coco Prive Private Island in the Maldives was a steal at just $125,000, and an opportunity to be a personal guest of H.S.H. Prince Albert of Monaco from July 16-18 fetched only $150,000 this time around, despite being promised a private reception with the Prince. The org says overall auction prices topped last year.
All of this aside, the Hotel Du Cap’s tented ballroom was as full as usual with high rollers (I noticed a lot of Russian names at some tables near the front), even if the usual star quotient Weinstein managed to bring in was absent in the kind of numbers we normally saw here. For instance, I spotted few of the starry Cannes Film Festival jury members in attendance (Kristen Stewart was there), and that was unusual compared to years past. I did see Un Certain Regard jury president Benicio Del Toro enjoying the proceedings, as well as the aforementioned Tucker, who seems to be a fixture here which he confirmed to the crowd in a slightly veiled reference to the past year’s scandal, “Nobody told me nothin’. I’m back,” he exclaimed as he came out to auction the items. I asked him to comment further on that statement, but he deferred. amFAR had put out a press release announcing a lineup of all women as honorary chairs this year, but many of those bigger names, such as Scarlett Johansson, Katy Perry, Kate Hudson and Vanessa Redgrave were nowhere to be seen from my vantage point. But i did spot Heidi Klum ( who also presented). It didn’t really matter in the scheme of things, as amFAR came through with the entertainment and the usual extravagant auction items.
The organization seems determined to continue on with the event, sans Weinstein, as presenting sponsors Bold Films and Chopard pulled it off. “This cause is so important, and this event is so much more important than any one person. Bold wants to do this for amFAR and Cinema Against AIDS, and is confident that it will remain the premier event of the Cannes Film Festival,” Bold’s CEO and vice-chair of the event Gary Michael Walters told me when I spotted him in the crowd. “We have been here for 13 years, and we love this cause. They do very important work. They are so close to a cure. They have to push through. We can’t stop now.”
Walters seemed as enthusiastic as ever, but pointedly didn’t mention Weinstein by name when I asked. He also mentioned he is high on the company’s September release Colette with Keira Knightley.
At my table was co-chair and longtime amFAR supporter Dennis Davidson, sitting next to South African producer Anant Singh, who has made over 50 films including 2013’s Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom, which Weinstein distributed in North America and which won Bono and U2 a Golden Globe and Oscar nomination for their song. He told me that whether the light star turnout was due to Harvey’s travails and absence or just the nature of this year’s festival is hard to say. Nevertheless, there was no mention of it from the stage, and the show did indeed go on.
Where it goes from here remains to be seen.