Cannes: Hollywood Gives Back at Star-Filled AmfAR Gala (Column)

Sharon Stone AmfAR Auction - H 2013
Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

In her latest Film Files column, Sharon Swart gets an auction scoop from Harvey Weinstein and catches up with Jessica Chastain, who says of the fundraiser's growth from last year: "I was hoping we’d double it, and we made even more!”

AmfAR’s annual Cannes fundraiser, Cinema Against AIDS, has auctioned off some crazy stuff over the years, but the event’s latest edition went way beyond.

Just before we sat down for the benefit dinner last night, the gala’s co-host Harvey Weinstein told me about an unusual auction item on the block. At first, I thought I’d heard him say, “I’m going to sit on Leo’s face.” What? (And, ew.) He repeated: “I’m going to send Leonardo DiCaprio into space.” He added, “A lot of people in Hollywood would like me to go into space, but only on a one-way ticket.”

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Turns out they were selling a seat on a Virgin Galactic flight with DiCaprio. One of the celeb auctioneers, Jeremy Renner, later talked up the unique zero-gravity experience by noting that the winning bidder would get to “puke on Leo.” They ended up selling three seats for a total of nearly $4 million.

AmfAR’s Cannes gala has come a long way from the days when, as the org’s global fundraising chairwoman Sharon Stone remembered, “I stood on a chair and auctioned off a look at Naomi Campbell’s navel ring.” Weinstein said, “When we started, it was Kenneth Cole, Elizabeth Taylor, me, Johnny Depp, Sean Penn, Naomi Campbell and Paul Sorvino at the Moulin de Mougins. We didn’t even know how to get an auction going. We auctioned off Paul Sorvino singing songs and Johnny did magic tricks, I think -- Naomi took her clothes off in a room and somebody could watch...we raised 300 grand.”

Yesterday, AmfAR hauled in a record $25 million in a tent pitched by the tennis courts of the Du Cap property. In attendance were most of the Cannes festival’s remaining VIPs, including DiCaprio, Jessica Chastain and Cannes jurors Nicole Kidman and Chistoph Waltz. But the majority of the auction items went to folks who weren’t necessarily in town for the film festival or market. An Andy Warhol print of Elizabeth Taylor went for 600,000 euros ($776,000) to Tamara Ecclestone, whose father is Formula 1 racing boss Bernie Ecclestone. (The nearby Monaco Grand Prix happens this weekend.) Sheikh Abdulla bin Isa Al-Khalifa, who presides over the Bahrain Grand Prix (and who sat at a table hosted by Bold Films’ Gary Michael Walters), said he’d meant to bid on the Damien Hirst piece that ended up selling for 800,000 euros ($1.03 million).

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Stone gathered more than 20 benefactors for a pediatric AIDS fund by luring them with signed Robert Rauschenberg prints. She also auctioned off a group of ensembles from the world’s top fashion designers. The so-called “Ultimate Gold Collection” was curated by former French Vogue editor Carine Roitfeld and paraded onto the stage by well-known runway models. With her signature sass, Stone teased that a lucky bidder could become the new owner of “all of these gowns and all of these suits -- and not one of these models.” The lot went for more than 1 million euros ($1.29 million).

The dinner ended on high note with four songs by Duran Duran, who made their AmfAR debut. At the after party, the band’s Nick Rhodes said, “This cause is very dear to a lot of the people in the entertainment industry. I lost at least a half a dozen friends to AIDS right at the beginning in the 1980s.”

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VIPs were ushered into the top room of the Eden Roc restaurant for the after-dinner celebration. The gale-force winds had picked up again, making the poolside area almost unusable. Chastain, a first-time AmfAR presenter, stood in the hallway wearing her boyfriend’s jacket. She was thrilled that the benefit had made such a huge jump over last year’s nearly $11 million raised. “I was hoping we’d double it, and we made even more!” she said.

DiCaprio and his mother sat in the far back corner, surrounded by hopeful-looking ballgown-clad girls who were perhaps looking for an intergalactic plus-one invite.

For Weinstein, the AmfAR bash was a great way to wind down the film festival. “After two weeks in Cannes and enjoying the French Riviera, this is a way of giving back,” he said.