24th amFAR Cannes Gala raises 20 million dollars

For nearly a quarter of a century now, amFAR’s gala Cannes event has been a cornerstone of the glamour of the Cannes Film Festival. Although, because of this year’s 70th anniversary fest event and dinner earlier this week where Salma Hayek led a conga line of luminaries, it had to compete for the title of most star power. Nevertheless, raising $20 million in one night and having the legendary Diana Ross rip through “I Will Survive” is certainly notable (Nicki Minaj and Rita Ora also performed).

Held at the Hotel du Cap Thursday night in a giant tent designed to a theme celebrating the golden age of Hollywood, the whole night — which draws the creme de la creme of European high-rollers — felt like something Gatsby might have thrown in his prime. And that seemed to be the idea.

It didn’t hurt to have The Great Gatsby co-stars (and buddies) Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire sitting side-by-side, front-and-center, among many other stars there including David Beckham (at their table), Christoph Waltz, Adrien Brody, Eva Longoria, Will Smith, Uma Thurman, Jessica Chastain, Nicole Kidman and Dustin Hoffman and more adding some celebrity wattage as well as participating in the auction which netted many of those millions.

The undisputed highlight of that was when Smith decided to take over the auction for a group of Golden Age photographer-to-the-stars George Hurrell portraits and give auctioneer Simon De Pury a run for his money. Showing “how it is done in America,” Smith, who had the crowd roaring, ran up the total for the photos to half a million by also adding a “selfie” with as many stars as he could get to participate on stage. As a jury member Smith has livened up this 70th Cannes at event after event like no other jury member I can remember.

The $20 million overall figure adds to the already hefty total of $190 million that amFAR has collected for AIDS research and services since it began in 1993. With presenting sponsors Harry Winston and Bold Films on board again, along with the likes of Harvey Weinstein, who has been a key part of this since the beginning, it is a must-attend party for those in and around Cannes for the festival. And with all these moneyed participants in attendance, security was at an all-time high with roads into the du Cap closed, and traffic causing such delays the actual dinner didn’t even get started until nearly 9 PM. At the cocktail reception, Weinstein told me he was ready to shake things up with this event and really try to accelerate it with the goal of ending it in five years. “I want to ratchet things up now and get Silicon Valley involved. I am not talking about their money, but their research, and I am going to personally set an example tonight,” he promised.

And that he did by announcing a donation of $1 million from their foundation in the name of his mother Miriam who died last year at age 91. He is hoping that donation will lead the way to the use of new technology to eradicate AIDS well before a previous target date of 2030. Weinstein told the crowd his mother was always interested in Google and just what all this new technology could do, so he hopes the money will start a new mission in that regard and speed up a final cure — even though he told me he is very proud of what amFAR has been able to achieve so far.

A big highlight of the evening, as it has been for the past few years, was the annual fashion show curated by Carine Roitfeld, with this one showing off fashions from Hollywood’s Golden Age. At the end of it all, 30 gowns were auctioned off for a record 3 million euros. But that was just part of the list of goodies that brought in the big money.

A private football match and dinner with David Beckham was personally auctioned by him for $350,000. A week in the Maldives for someone and 60 of their friends went for $700,000. A five-day trek to a village in the Indian Himalayas and a private meeting with the Dalai Lama fetched $350,000. A Richard Hambleton painted “Ice Cream” van sold for $300,000. Artist JR’s massive 26×40-foot sculpture of an Olympic diver drew $700,000 and the hope from the Mayor of Paris that the winning bidder would loan it to the city to be put on display. It is so massive it would hardly fit in your backyard, although for people in this room it just might.

The Haas Brothers’ Ape Suzette got $500,000, while a Timothy White photo of amFAR founder, the late Elizabeth Taylor, giving the finger to paparazzi went for $80,000. Chris Tucker, a fixture here every year, auctioned off a 1958 Jaguar  XK150 signed by every star there for $600,000 euros, and a week on board the Serenity yacht for 30 guests took in $450,000. There were many other items also auctioned, and rest assured, the money — like the Moet Hennessy champagne — was flowing in Cannes last night.