Shipshape soiree

amfAR rides beneficial wave at Venice festival

VENICE — A crowd of stars, socialites and catwalk queens gathered Sept. 4 in the cavernous halls of the restored 16th-century Arsenale shipyards. The occasion was the third annual amfAR Cinema Against AIDS Venice fund-raiser during the 59th Venice Intl. Film Festival.

Legendary Welsh belter Dame Shirley Bassey sparked up the evening, ripping through a set that began with her classic Bond themes “Goldfinger” and “Diamonds Are Forever” and closed with a standing ovation after “I Am What I Am.”

While honorary event chair Lauren Bacall was forced to bow out due to filming commitments in Los Angeles, Milla Jovovich handled hosting duties with enthusiasm.

Despite the actress’s pleas to spend for a good cause, most of the well-heeled Venetians kept a tight grip on their wallets, resulting in low auction bids compared with amfAR’s big-spending Cannes events. Highest price paid was $20,000 for two tickets to Vanity Fair’s 2003 Oscar party.

An amfAR spokesperson said the evening was a success, however, with an estimated $500,000 raised for AIDS research through ticket sales, sponsorship and the auction.

Guests included director Julie Taymor, composer husband Elliot Goldenthal and actresses Gong Li, Julie Delpy and Elizabeth Berkley, with It girls Sophie Dahl, Lauren Bush and Nicky Hilton boosting the glamour factor. AmfAR founding chairman Dr. Mathilde Krim introduced the evening.

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