Pete Hammond

The late Elizabeth Taylor was fondly remembered during a tribute Thursday night at the ultra-glamorous  annual amFAR Cinema Against AIDS event (now in its 18th year) at Hotel Du Cap. The event co-chaired by Kenneth Cole and Harvey Weinstein broke all records, bringing in a haul of more than $10 million after an auction that also saw record prices. In clips from movies like Cleopatra and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, along with footage from her work for the organization in which she was the founding international chairman and host of the first event in 1993  Cole saluted Taylor as someone who “spoke up when others wouldn’t and said things when others can’t. I hope this will always be part of her legacy.” Weinstein added, “It was an honor to work beside her and it was an honor to watch her movies.”

Continuing the Taylor theme of the evening, two “Elizabeth” items went for big bucks in the annual auction that is always a part of this glitzy dinner, thrown near the end of each Cannes Film Festival since ’93. A limited-edition Herb Ritts photo of Taylor taken in Malibu in 1991 fetched a whopping $150,000, while an Andy Warhol dated lithograph of Liz circa 1964 fetched $400,000.

Among the stars taking part in the evening and auction were Janet Jackson, Brooke Shields, Freida Pinto, Kanye West, Rosario Dawson, Naomi Campbell, Gwen Stefani, Gavin Rossdale, Patrick Dempsey, Milla Jovovich (who opened the proceedings with a sultry “I Wanna Be Loved By You”), Jane Fonda, Goldie Hawn and Sean Penn. Penn, bringing up the rear, got big laughs demanding women abstain from sex unless their men cough up $10,000 apiece in order to break the record amount for the fundraiser. Twenty-one of them did just that. Boy George performed a couple of songs, too. Among those in the crowd were three Cannes jury members including president Robert De Niro, Uma Thurman (who also participated in the auction) and Jude Law, along with Melancholia star Kirsten Dunst, who looked happy not to have Lars von Trier as her date.

Just as the Cannes market has proven in the past week, the economy seems to be on the rebound, particularly with this international jet-setting crowd. A Cartier watch valued at $37,000 drew $100,000 more than that. An “Eat Pray Love” getaway week in Bali took in $100,000. The appearance of Prince Albert of Monaco and his fiancee, Olympic swimmer Charlene Wittstock at the dinner helped raise 1,000,000 euros for the promise of getting to play tennis with the Prince , a swimming lesson from Wittstock and  having lunch with them. Two different bidders won the package which drew the single biggest amount in the auction. And so it went.

Bold Films (which is premiering Ryan Gosling’s Drive in competition Friday night), The Weinstein Company and Chopard were key sponsors.

Also at amFAR, Oscar-winning Crash writer-producer-director Paul Haggis was very excited about his new project, which he says no one in the media knows about — until now that is. It’s back in the multi-segmented Crash vein with an ensemble cast in three different love stories set in New York, London and Italy in Rome and Naples. Titled Third Person, he said it was a bitch to write and has been working on it for a year and a half and pre-selling it in Cannes. It starts shooting in September, he says.

Meanwhile, Fonda has been a ubiquitous presence all week at the festival with another event sponsor, L’Oreal, paying her a lot of money to lend her glamour to the whole Cannes scene. Another guest, Michelle Rodriguez, has been everywhere as well, supporting the documentaries Confessions of an Eco Terrorist and The Big Fix. She said she hadn’t seen any other movies but tried to get into a 3 PM screening of The Tree of Life at the Lumiere on Monday only to be turned away by french security because she was five minutes late. Penn, who has a small role and big billing in that movie, seems excited for his other competition entry, This Must Be The Place, in which he plays an aging former rock star suffering through depression. It’s directed by Italy’s Paolo Sorrentino, for whom Penn only had the highest praise when I saw him at the reception at Cinema Against AIDS.

FilmDistrict’s Bob Berney, also at the event, said his company was very pleased with all the action at this Cannes, particularly excited to get the Bruce Willis/Joseph Gordon-Levitt time-travel thriller Looper and to be releasing Angelina Jolie’s directorial debut In The Land of Blood and Honey, set in Bosnia, which will open in the heart of the next awards season Dec. 23. Berney says she is the real deal as a director. He was very impressed with what he saw and says she pulls no punches.

Harvey Weinstein congratulated Berney on his new gig and their initial successes with Insidious and Soul Surfer and told him his company also went after Looper at one time.

Ryan Kavanaugh, an event chair of the gala, said Relativity had a very successful Cannes, too, with their movie Immortals winning praise from buyers who saw a 35-minute reel. He was also excited about the big box office for Bridesmaids, which opened last weekend to more than $26 million.

Alliance distribution head Xavier Marchand said he was also happy with Cannes this year when I caught up with him at the Eden Roc afterparty, which was so crowded people could barely move. The Arnold Schwarzenegger scandal took its toll on one of his projects that was being sold in the Cannes market, Cry Macho, which Spain wanted to pull out of this week. Marchand told them it was no problem since the picture was just canceled.

Even though the market is pretty much completely dead now, the spirit of the fest goes on for three more days, with more movies to come before the awards are handed out Sunday night. But getting a jump on the main competition, the Critics’ Week sidebar announced their big winner Thursday night: Take Shelter, the one American entry, which stars Michael Shannon and Tree Of Life’s Jessica Chastain and was directed by Jeff Nichols. It was one of the rare Sundance pictures that also got a berth in Cannes. Sony Pictures Classics releases it Oct. 7.

And finally, a hot topic of conversation at the big amFAR doings was, of course, Lars von Trier, who seems to keep putting his foot in his mouth. One producer with a film in the competition said he was sorry for Lars but happy to have one less film to worry about beating. Many wondered since the festival deemed von Trier “persona non grata” if that also meant his film, Melancholia, was disqualified. The answer the fest served up today is a definitive “no.” It only means that should it win a prize, von Trier will not be allowed to be there in person to accept. Sounds like shades of the Nicolas Chartier Hurt Locker episode, when the producer was banned from the Oscar show after sending emails to Academy members uging them not to vote for Avatar. He still got his Oscar statuette, and von Trier could conceivably still win something from the unpredictable Cannes jury, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

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