Each year during the Cannes Film Festival, the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amFAR), holds their Cinema Against AIDS gala: the black-tie rendezvous for about eight hundred guests, among which are many of the stars from the films currently being screened in Cannes theatres, film producers, and anyone directly or indirectly involved in the fundraising effort. Chaired principally by Kenneth Cole, Harvey Weinstein, and Sharon Stone, Cinema Against AIDS helps raise funds for medical research. Both Weinstein and Stone have been tireless supporters of amFAR’s efforts to get the message out about AIDS awareness. Their participation in the gala helps to ensure as many A-listers as possible will show up, thereby increasing amFAR’s visibility. As Kenneth Cole explained to me when the gala was getting underway, “Anyone who is anyone will be here tonight, and Annie Lennox is going to sing. The night is going to be magical.” Aware of the current economic climate, Cole told me that “last year was a different time and place, and it’s very hard out there, but it’s no less important in here.”
These days, any attempts at engaging in the debate about AIDS seems essential, since the tension between the establishment and the rest of the world has almost taken Manichean proportions. World leaders can unravel decades of hard work by NGOs with just a few words, and this gala represents an important victory in the battle to keep research and awareness alive. The foundation has raised $290M over the years and also helps provide funding for a couple thousand research teams.
Last year’s gala was organized at the Moulin de Mougin, France’s answer to the Inn at Little Washington; this year the dinner and auction (and after-party) happened at the posh Hotel du Cap in Antibes, about twenty minutes away from Cannes. Transportation for those souls in need was arranged by the foundation, so I got on the shuttle bus at about 5pm that Thursday. A majority of photographers were already on hand, discussing light measurements and last night’s film premieres and red-carpet entrances. As we departed la ville de Cannes, I noticed that we had a police escort; I’m not sure if we had the single most famous photographer on the planet riding with us, or whether this was simply protocol. The cops waved traffic out of the way like Moses parting the seas, and sometimes led us into oncoming traffic. Apparently these nice policemen thought we should get to the Hotel du Cap quickly. One of them suddenly ran into the other, and they collided; traffic stopped while scrapes and bruises were looked over, and replacements were made (with better-abled drivers, I hoped). With less fanfare and vague apprehension, we arrived at the Hotel soon after.
The grounds of the Hotel du Cap were staffed with a security detail whose men resembled extras from a Guy Ritchie movie. Lean and overly tanned young men patrolled the hotel’s surroundings, talking discreetly into their wrists. Soon after check-in I was escorted to the press compound, located closest to the hotel. I quickly surveyed how media were organized and noted bitterly that compared to the photographers’ corps, the written press clique would be a minority. Thank God there were people I knew, like a young reporter from a Colombian outlet who arrived shortly after. We both looked apprehensively at the insufferable British photographer setting up next to us who apparently went by the name of Toby. He tended to spray when he spoke and made disparaging remarks about women — I hope it was his sister or mother he referred to.
This event was not going to be an easy one for us in written press. Trying to lure an actor, director, or fashion personality over for a quick chat about their film or their cause is tough, because it is difficult to compete with the Barking Butcher from Brighton who’s packing two telephoto lenses so long all you can think to say is, “impressive, mate.” Before the cast of Lost at Hotel du Cap started arriving, I had a brief chat with someone in security — you never know when you might need a friend on the staff.
In the South of France just as much as in LA or Sundance, when Paris Hilton or Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson appear on the red carpet (well, actually it was black), everyone gets the paparazzi jitters (except for us, of course), and any crack at carrying a half-decent conversation with the likes of the beautiful Anna Mouglalis, who has a starring role in Jans Koonen’s Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky, or Marion Cotillard, who takes the prize for grace, dignity and professionalism, is best forgotten. It’s too loud to have a talk.
Paolo Coelho was one of the first guests to arrive; he had a pleased look on his face and was ever the good sport to the incessant screaming of the shutterbugs. He worked the media with a big and sometimes worried smile. We also saw Mike Myers, Eva Herzygowa, Hope Davis (currently starring in Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus), Dita Von Teese, amFAR ambassador Michelle Yeoh, Elodie Bouchez, Elizabeth Hurley, a gorgeous Georgina Chapman, and actor/filmmaker Guillaume Canet and Kerri Washington. There were a few slashies, as always. Paris Hilton soon made her way down the “catwalk” in an outfit which reminded one of Nero reincarnated as a tranny — toga, hair ornament, and all. James Grey, the director of We Own The Night and Two Lovers and currently member of the Cannes Jury, was on hand, and as expected he did not stop for the photographers; maybe he was still angry from his latest spat with jury president Isabelle Huppert. I’d heard that during the festival he’d been resentful of the fact that Huppert apparently ran the deliberations with an iron fist; some are saying that this year’s awards in Cannes should have been called the Huppert Awards.
Emile Hirsch, currently appearing in Ang Lee’s Taking Woodstock here in Cannes, arrived early — he smiled politely and made his way to the entrance. Joshua Jackson and Diane Kruger’s arrival caused a hoopla down the media catwalk; the paparazzi’s scowls could be heard all the way to the Negresco Hotel in Nice.
One of the guests I was looking forward to seeing the most was Annie Lennox, who would perform for the guests. She arrived by herself dressed in a gorgeous, light blue Chinese silk dress. Lennox looked great, though a bit uneasy about the photographers who unleashed a deluge of cheers and roars on her. I thought, Annie Lennox is not Paris Hilton, boys. How about treating her with a little decorum? But Lennox was a great sport about it and gave everyone ample time to photograph. She was greeted by Kenneth Cole, and they retreated to the side to have a chat and a few laughs.
Sharon Stone, who always hosts Cinema Against AIDS, arrived last. In a oh-no-she-didn’t moment as cameras and flashes crackled and snapped, she waved softly at everyone to stop and listen. She told everyone that she had just returned from Northern Uganda where she helped to build wells to ensure people there had clean drinking water. She introduced the two people she was with and said their company agreed to give a percentage of their proceeds to help in building clean water wells. “I’m really proud to be working with them,” Stone said. Some of the photographers who were still snapping away and barking for Stone to turn towards them were silenced by their colleagues. Stone, who was inspiring (and inspired), then thanked the media, implying that they are helping amFAR’s humanitarian mission and that “it’s working, and it’s because of you, thank you very, very much, you’re all little paparazzi angels.”
I’m not sure whether she was talking about her own cause or amFAR’s. And while a boisterous crowd of celebrity photographers might not exactly be the best audience, it was a believable performance by Ms. Stone. The amFAR cocktail and dinner was followed by the performance by Ms. Lennox, and later by an after-party at the hotel. Although I regretted that the event was not at Moulin de Mougins, the Hotel du Cap was a great venue for the gala. The weather was perfect; the only unhappy people at the Hotel du Cap that night were the slightly aggravated hotel guests who had to be escorted by a security detail across the grounds to leave from or return to their rooms.