“I see a lot of rich people here!” said Jodie Turner-Smith as she took to the stage to open the Venice Film Festival AmfAR gala and auction held Wednesday evening in the Arsenale, a former shipyard complex on the edge of the city’s Grand Canal.

Urging guests to be generous, Turner-Smith, who looked stunning in a yellow corset top, reminded everyone that, “It’s easy to forget that AIDS still remains one of the world’s most serious health threats.” 

Though undoubtedly lower key than the event held at Cannes, AmfAR Venice had its fair share of glamour and star power with Heather Graham, Patricia Clarckson, Marisa Tomei and Rachel Brosnahan among chairs. 

Also spotted: Trace Lysette; Sarah Ferguson; Italian A-lister Stefano Accorsi; Saudi producer and Red Sea fest chairman Mohammed Al Turki with Egyptian megastar Youssra; Portuguese supermodel Sara Sampaio; and Zooey Deschanel, Casey Affleck and Caylee Cowan who arrived following the Lido premiere of Bill Pohlad’s “Dreamin’ Wild” in which Affleck and Deschanel star.

Honorees included Turkish-Italian director Ferzan Ozpetek feted in recognition for how his movies bring to the fore characters within the LGBTQ community. Onstage Ozpetek recounted how when he made the film “Mine Vaganti” (aka ‘Loose Cannons’) he was told by the distributor, 01 Distribution, that “if you cut the scene of the kiss between two men, the film could make two million [Euros] more [at the local box office]. I said: ‘no’.” The uncensored version of the pic went on to become among Ozpetek’s biggest box office hits in Italy.

Ozpetek also paid tribute to AmfAR co-founder Elizabeth Taylor “who is looking at us from the heavens.”

Sponsors included Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Film Festival, Campari, and Picticular the app that helps movie fans find films on all platforms. “We are carrying the torch for Elisabeth,” said the startup’s co-founder Todd Courtney.

The live auction conducted by Simon de Pury started well with Lady Monika Bacardi breaking the ice by shelling out €250,000 ($249,000) for a collection of framed photographs, several of which are portraits of Andy Warhol. All told, almost €3 million was raised.

Once the bidding was over Grammy Award-nominated British pop singer Ellie Goulding took to the stage for a live set that included her smash hit “Love Me Like You Do.” If you compare the $19 million raised by AmfAR in Cannes, it’s clear that the love for AIDS research at the Venetian event – which is much more of a novelty – was a bit underwhelming. But organizers were satisfied and say the Venice AmfAR will be bigger next year.


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