Hollywood remains on strike - but amfAR gala plays host to more celebrities than ever

US film director Ava DuVernay was guest of honour at amFAR
US film director Ava DuVernay was guest of honour at amFAR Copyright Kristy Sparow/2023 Getty Images
By Ally Portee
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If an AIDS charity counts on Hollywood celebrity support, you might expect problems with the industry on strike. Euronews went behind the scenes to see how the glamorous event faced the challenge.


The amfAR charity gala at the Venice Film Festival is fast becoming one of those essential be there, be seen high class social events for the great and good. 

From Venice to Cannes, LA and Palm Beach - amfAR galas are notorious for being  exclusive and hard to get into, so Euronews Culture was delighted to receive an invite for the chance to rub shoulders with some of the world's most influential celebrities.

It was also a huge opportunity to promote a much needed cause - the continuing fight for AIDS and HIV research. 

This year's event faced a unique challenge as the usual cast of Hollywood stars and A-list actors staying away with the US film and tv industry on strike, however a glittering turn-out was ensured as notable European actors, models, directors, and benefactors gathered at the La Misericordia to honour US filmmaker Ava DuVernay.

Andreas Rentz/amfAR/2023 Andreas Rentz/Getty Images
US film director Ava DuVernay picks up her honorary award at amfAR 2023 in VeniceAndreas Rentz/amfAR/2023 Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

She stunned in a fitted black gown from Louis Vuitton. Receiving her award, she spoke on how watching the original West Side Story as a child was her ah-ha moment of wanting to be a movie director. “The colours, the brown people, the romance, the war and games, the dancing, and Maria and Tony ignited my passion for film. It ignited me to leave Compton, California and speak to you in this 16th century building tonight,” she said.

“How many women and people of colour, and members of the LGBTQ community have been similarly inspired, but their passion and creativity doesn’t have a viable road to fulfil their passion?,” she asked the audience. My next film Origin explores the fact that most notably, this is why women are thought of as less than others, and how these ideas are ingrained into systems, creating habits that we might not even be aware of.”

Strike solidarity

While there weren’t any A-list actors in attendance and while their Venice gala doesn’t hold the same prestige as their Cannes gala, it was still a strong turnout, amfAR CEO Kevin Frost was quick to point out that there were more celebrities in attendance compared to any other amfAR Gala ever.

“This is our third year in Venice. The first year we were here we had 150 people, on Sunday we had 480. The event has grown significantly over the last several years. Believe it or not, we had more celebrity presence than we’ve had at any of our events in the past. Yes, the strike is an important thing, and I know that people are in solidarity with those that are striking, but at the same time we have had incredible support from the event.”

Proud and prestigious

Arriving at the dinner by water taxi was, well everyone, making it a romantic-faire to say the least. Women in their couture wear and men in tuxedos. 

The red carpet was buzzing with French actor Lucas Bravo, British actress Kate Beckinsale, and Italian actress Beatrice Grannò from White Lotus season two, which has been nominated for 12 Emmy Awards at next year's ceremony. 

Other notable names included Luke Evans, Bella Thorne, former French First Lady Carla Bruni, and Jesse Williams.

Andreas Rentz/amfAR/2023 Andreas Rentz/amfAR and Getty Images
From left to right: Actors Lucas Bravo, Jesse Williams, Michelle Rodriguez, film producer Mohammed Al Turki and actor Luke EvansAndreas Rentz/amfAR/2023 Andreas Rentz/amfAR and Getty Images

A two-hour cocktail kept guests entertained as they networked, mingled, and munched on hors d'oeuvres. A grand staircase led to the second floor, where a seated dinner with twelve to a table covered the dining room floor from front to back. Grand table set ups awed as guests took their tables to raise money for aids research.

Colby Tallia/amfAR/2023 Colby Tallia/Getty Images
Newlyweds director Taika Waititi and singer Rita OraColby Tallia/amfAR/2023 Colby Tallia/Getty Images

The dinner started off with a full orchestra playing movie themes songs while movie scenes echoed on the screen above. After the first course, actress Milla Jovovich opened the event by welcoming guests, speaking on the importance of AIDS research, and pointing out how in Italy, mother to child transmission of aids has been eradicated. 

The auction started in full swing, led by auctioneer Michael Macaulay from Sothebys. By lot 5, the auctioneer was on a roll with British actor Luke Evans, introducing ‘A Creba: Your Own Private Island Experience,’ which started off with a €50,000 bid and sold for €100,000.

amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, is one of the world's leading nonprofit organisations dedicated to the support of AIDS research, HIV prevention, treatment education, and advocacy. It was the brainchild of actor Elizabeth Taylor, who was greatly affected by the death of her friend and fellow actor Rock Hudson. Since its inception in 1985, amfAR has been able to fund $635 million in its research programmes- 3,500 grants have gone to research teams worldwide.

Colby Tallia/amfAR/2023 Colby Tallia/Getty Images
British singer Rita Ora stole the show for some with a memorable performance and cut-out white dressColby Tallia/amfAR/2023 Colby Tallia/Getty Images

As the auction concluded, British singer Rita Ora took to the stage in a dramatic white gown, singing Let You Love Me, which brought the audience to their feet. 

The event raised more than €2 million for AIDS research and the evening concluded with an afterparty, though many didn’t stay, opting to head back to their hotels by boat into the night shadows of Venice’s romantic air.

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