Cannes: Sultan of Brunei's Son Debuts Film Amid Beverly Hills Hotel Boycott
Prince Azim's foray into the film business — which includes a Hilary Swank movie shopped at Cannes — comes as the furor over his father’s anti-gay policy heats up.
On May 16, Myriad Pictures and the producers of Hilary Swank’s inspirational drama You’re Not You will host a posh party for buyers in a villa above Cannes. But one of the film’s key players won’t be there.
Prince Azim Haji Bolkiah of Brunei, 31, is a producer involved with the London-based film company Daryl Prince Productions, whose first project is You’re Not You, an $8 million exploration of a woman’s battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS).
But the prince’s foray into Hollywood is coming at a complicated time.
A decision by his father, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, to institute Sharia law in the oil-rich, largely Muslim kingdom of Brunei, has sparked outrage in the entertainment community. Under the harsh penal code, adultery and having a same-sex relationship can be punishable by death by stoning. In Los Angeles, some industry notables and LGBT groups have responded with a boycott of the iconic Beverly Hills Hotel, part of the Dorchester Group of properties, owned by the Brunei Investment Agency.
Prince Azim, who is not involved in the Dorchester Group, declined via a spokesperson to comment on the Hollywood boycott of his family’s properties. The prince has decided to keep a low profile and will skip Cannes altogether (his attendance was never confirmed, but sources say he had planned to come).
The You’re Not You soiree would have been a natural fit for Prince Azim, considering his involvement in the film business and his past penchant for glitzy gatherings. Breaking Bad star Aaron Paul told Details magazine in February that he attended a 2007 birthday bash for the prince in a castle outside London, where he chased a herd of sheep with Azim, rode a hovercraft and chatted with Michael Jackson. Another birthday celebration, observing the prince’s 30th birthday, was held at London’s Dorchester Hotel and attended by Hollywood celebrities including Mariah Carey, Faye Dunaway and Raquel Welch.
DPP launched in fall 2012 with the aim of getting involved in all aspects of filmmaking. The company’s consultants Joanne Podmore and Rhian Williams often travel to L.A. to pursue projects and are becoming familiar faces on the festival scene, including in Cannes.
It’s not clear whether Prince Azim is putting his own resources into DPP. A rep for the prince says he hasn’t invested in the company or its films, and he isn’t listed as a director of the company in public documents obtained by THR. DPP also is involved in Dark Places, an upcoming Charlize Theron drama. (Prince Azim is listed on IMDb as a producer on the film.)
You’re Not You is being produced by DPP in association with Di Novi Pictures and Swank’s 2S Films. A rep for Swank declined to comment.
You’re Not You, which now is completed, also stars Emmy Rossum, Josh Duhamel and Marcia Gay Harden. Kirk D’Amico’s Myriad picked up international rights to the movie earlier this year and is hosting the May 16 soiree for foreign buyers (DPP reps are expected to be there as well).
In the U.S., You’re Not You will be released by indie distributor Entertainment One. Directed by George C. Wolfe (Nights in Rodanthe), the movie revolves around a woman (Swank) who is diagnosed with ALS and hires a young caregiver (Rossum).
Prince Azim became involved with You’re Not You and Dark Places long before the current controversy erupted, and people in the film business have not tried to distance themselves from the royal due to the controversy. The Beverly Hills Hotel boycott has been pronounced in L.A., with the glitzy “Night Before” Oscar party dropping the venue and Sony Pictures, several gay-rights groups and THR all moving events from the facility. But the reaction has been more muted overseas, where the Brunei Investment Agency owns several luxury properties.
The Dorchester chain’s European hotels include the Dorchester, a regular spot for U.S. studio junkets, and the popular Paris Fashion Week destination Le Meurice, where the French film industry also holds its revelations dinner honoring up-and-coming talent two weeks ahead of France’s top film prize, the Cesars. Organizers of the dinner, which next will be held in early 2015, tell THR they have no plans to change the venue. They add that planning for the 2015 event would not start until December so it is too early to make a decision.
On the other hand, Hedi Slimane, creative director of French fashion group House Yves Saint Laurent, wrote on Facebook on May 12 that the company “cannot tolerate such repressive and anti-egalitarian laws” and “no employees of the House will stay in any Dorchester Collection properties until the Sultan of Brunei repeals such laws and positions.” Francois-Henri Pinault, CEO of French fashion giant Kering (and Salma Hayek's husband) has joined such designers as Peter Som and Brian Atwood in calling for a boycott.
“As president of Kering Foundation, which combats violence against women, I firmly condemn the Sultan of Brunei’s decision and join the boycott of his hotel properties,” wrote Pinault in a May 9 tweet.
Other prominent European celebrities, including British media entrepreneur Richard Branson of Virgin Media and actor and gay rights activist Stephen Fry have called on their industry to boycott the Dorchester Group.
Rhonda Richford contributed to this report.