Confab toes the party line

Amsterdam's vices an integral part of show biz event

While day-and-date releasing, piracy and d-cinema were recurrent themes at Cinema Expo this year, speakers also made frequent mention of the two reasons for Amsterdam’s legendary tourist appeal: prostitutes and pot.

The public speaking axiom is to always open with a joke, and no one could resist a zinger about Amsterdam’s infamous nightlife. (“Don’t go to the Casa Rosso,” said Ben Stiller in a pre-recorded statement pumping his pic “Night at the Museum” for Fox, referring to an Amsterdam sex club. “I thought it was a Mexican restaurant! And I asked for the hot tamale.”)

The MPAA’s Dan Glickman kicked off his speech by saying he hadn’t been in Amsterdam since “1965, when I was a young student.” He added, “I took a tour of some places that I went then, and I hope my wife doesn’t find out what I did here 40 years ago in Amsterdam.”

Rich Taylor of the MPAA took a picture of the audience from the podium at an antipiracy presentation to “prove to his wife why he was in Amsterdam.” And Warner Bros. Pictures Intl. honchos Con Gornell and Monique Esclavissat repeatedly remarked how much they appreciated that everyone “got up early” to attend a studio presentation reel that started at 9 a.m., hardly the crack of dawn. “I know that last night you had (screenings of) ‘Borat’ and ‘A Good Year,’ ” said Esclavissat. “And you had Amsterdam,” she added, drawing chuckles.

Sacha Baron Cohen — appearing as zany Kazakhstani media man Borat — got in on the act, as did “Harry Potter” producer David Heyman in a pre-recorded address.

But outside of any joshing, Cinema Expo in reality sees precious little of the hedonism that seems to infuse festivals like Cannes, or even the Expo’s Las Vegas-set Stateside sister, ShoWest.

Whereas ShoWest is a convention housed in a casino along the Strip, Cinema Expo is housed at the Amsterdam RAI, a massive convention hub away from the city’s center. Unlike past years, none of the confab’s parties or events happened outside the walls of the 680,000-square-foot building, in an area that could be part of any faceless industrial park.

If attendees did find their way to any interesting nightlife, they did it on their own, away from any official shindigs. Some of the parties in the RAI did have bands or DJs and dancing, and Sony’s closing night fete was a casino-inspired affair for its latest James Bond pic. But in a town that drew so many remarks for its party-hardy debauchery, the RAI can’t help but seem a bit too tame for most.

Most guests stay at generic corporate hotels by the RAI that don’t lead to the type of socializing that can happen at other industry events on the calendar. Higher-profile peeps, including talent or top studio brass, opt for the Sofitel Grand Hotel, one of the town’s poshest places to stay, and a half-hour cab ride from the convention center.

Perhaps the endless jokes are just part of any easy, obligatory banter to open a speech and seem fun. (This year, such comments managed to outnumber the endless World Cup references people made from the stage.) Or maybe execs know that what happens outside the RAI stays outside the RAI, except for some next-day winking.

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