Sunday, May 26, 2024

amFAR Prepares for Cannes 2022 Gala: Saudis, Crypto Bigs, New Fashionistas Running Show Now


The Cannes Film Festival is coming, and that means so is the 2022 amFAR dinner at the end of the 2nd week. But it’s no longer the amFAR of its heyday. Those yachts have sailed.

amFAR is already a sketchy gang, but lately they’ve thrown in– perhaps out of desperation — with some unusual new friends.

First, an update on their always interesting finances: According to their most recent tax filing, amFAR needs money and sponsors. For 2019-2020, salaries for their execs, as usual were UP, while revenue and grant giving was severely down– almost 50%.

Their CEO, Kevin Frost, is up to $600,000 in salary and perqs. Total salaries for that period came to $11.4 million, an increase of $300,000. But everything else fell: total revenue by $10 million, contributions and grants dropped from $40 million to $21 million, grants to outside organizations dwindled from $10.5 million to around $6 million.

This month, amFAR returns to the Hotel du Cap Eden Roc, the most expensive venue on the Cote d’Azur. Last July, when the film festival was moved from May, they had to go elsewhere. But now they’re back in the lap of luxury.

For the new gala, the big sponsor is as it was last July: Saudi’s. Their main sponsor is the newish Red Sea International Film Festival, a gala that takes place later in the year in Saudi Arabia. Mohammed Al-Turki, who is closely aligned with the festival, is a guest chair this year of amFAR’s dinner. Al-Turki reports back to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, aka “MBS,” the man who ordered the grisly death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

The participation of a Saudi Film Festival with amFAR is also striking because in Saudi Arabia being gay or trans is completely illegal. Having AIDS is worse. if you are a foreigner who has AIDS, you’d be deported. If were openly gay, you’d be considered a criminal, and punished in one of many violent ways. The country does not recognize same-sex marriage, domestic partnerships, or civil unions.

The other big sponsors are two firms having financial problems this week: crypto currency giant FTX and Revolve Group, aka RVLV. FTX, a huge bitcoin operation created by 30 year old Sam Bankman-Fried, who is said to be worth $24 billion but saw half his net worth disappear this week. FTX was booming until recently. But today it’s trading at a six month low of around $29.88. RVLV, a fashion discounter also run by a pair of thirtysomethings, is also trading at its six month low of just above $29.

The FTX involvement should raise a few red flags: for the first time, amFAR is allowing donations, ticket purchases, and auction bids in cryptocurrency.

Despite losing many of its original organizers and ties to Hollywood, amFAR is still represented in the celebrity world by Milutin “Gatsby,” whose real last name is Gijic. A Serb, Gatsby’s claim to fame was getting close to Leonardo DiCaprio years ago. For a time he was Global Ambassador with Leo’s foundation, but that relationship ended around the time DiCaprio got caught up in the 1MDB Malaysian Fund scandal.

Of the 24 chairs and 12 co-chairs listed for this year’s gala, one name is glaringly missing: Sharon Stone. She’s the only celebrity associated with amFAR anyone cares about. For years she raised millions of dollars for them as hostess and auctioneer at their events. A falling out followed. Last July Stone was pressed into service for the scaled down gala. But so far she is MIA for the new dinner.

amFAR has always been a breeding ground for EuroTrash, poseurs, sketchy characters who mixed with actual billionaires and royalty like Sarah Ferguson. For many years, Kenneth Cole and Harvey Weinstein gave it a patina of glamor and Hollywood respect, but those days are over for a variety of reasons.

Still attached to amFAR is a little known lobbyist from Washington DC: Vin Roberti. Writing on Medium last year, journalist Robbie Jaeger identified Roberti as working for Nord Stream AG 2, a :Swiss-based company that is 100% owned by Gazprom, the Russian state-owned oil giant in charge of the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline project.”

Venerable jeweler Chopard remains the “signature sponsor,” but the rest of the sponsors are a Mexican tequila brand called Clase Azul, a start up Swiss Champagne vintner (ten year old Hatt et Soner), and the two year old Hadid Caviar, owned by Mohammad Hadid, father of the famous models. L’Oreal and some other big corporate names used to be on the sponsor list, but they are gone, at least from public association with the event on Friday, May 26th. One other listed major sponsor is something called the h.wood group, a pair of nightclub owners and event organizers from Los Angeles.

Celebrities whose names are attached to the Cannes gala otherwise include Cynthia Erivo,
Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, Vanessa Hudgens, Kate Hudson,  Milla Jovovich, Julian Lennon,
Laura Linney, Eva Longoria, Baz Luhrmann, Michelle Rodriguez, Lakeith Stanfield. Michelle Williams, and Michelle Yeoh. Robert De Niro is being honored. Will amFAR fly them all in with first class travel and accommodations? They’d better hope the Saudis have good travel agents.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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