A soiree with a serious agenda

Times Staff Writer

Studio chief Harvey Weinstein arrived at the crowded party -- a very chic affair at the Museum of Modern Art -- threw his arms into the air and asked the question everyone was wondering: “Where’s El Presidente?”

Well, the president (Bill Clinton) would be arriving late to the Wednesday night soiree. (He had meetings.) But that didn’t stop the revelers from mixing about. The list of invitees was impressive: Nearly 50 heads of state, billionaires, a variety of royals (no party is complete without them, no matter which coast you’re on) and a sampling of stars.

If you’re a political junkie (especially one from Hollywood), this was almost as good as Oscar night.

But, there was a catch: To get into this affair you had to be part of a special group -- handpicked by Clinton -- to help him in a global fight against poverty, disease, war and pollution. It’s all part of the president’s second annual Clinton Global Initiative -- or CGI -- aimed at getting some of the richest and most influential people on Earth energized into tackling some of the world’s worst problems. The price of admission was $15,000, which bought a VIP pass to meetings, planning sessions, glittery receptions and parties.


First Lady Laura Bush helped Clinton open the conference -- attended by Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and more than 1,000 others -- at the Sheraton in New York on Wednesday morning, where she announced a $16.4-million program to help some of the poorest people on the planet via the installation of 4,000 water pumps in sub-Saharan Africa. (Of course, she didn’t have to pay to get in.)

On Thursday, Richard Branson, the chief executive of Virgin Group, announced that the company will invest all future profits (an estimated $3 billion over the next 10 years) from its airline and train businesses into renewable energy initiatives within the company and as further investments in bio-fuel and other projects aimed at tackling emissions related to global warming. (Branson said he was inspired to act after meeting with former Vice-President Al Gore, who has been traveling the world with his global-warming warning.)

Steve Bing said he is contributing $40 million to “Yes on Prop. 87,” the campaign for the California Clean Energy Initiative. The measure is a $4-billion effort to reduce California’s dependence on petroleum-based fuels by 25% over the next 10 years. Funded through a fee placed on oil drilling in California, Proposition 87 will be on the state’s ballot on Nov. 7.

And former EBay founder Jeff Skoll -- head of Participant Productions, one of Hollywood’s most politically active production houses -- announced that his foundation was giving PBS $2.5 million to make films dealing with a variety of problems facing the world. He said his company (which helped fund “Syriana,” “Good Night, and Good Luck” and “An Inconvenient Truth,” the Gore global-warming documentary) expected to release a number of socially conscious films next year.

“The power of the image is profound,” Skoll said. “Look at the images about the pope this week. Or the images of the protests over the cartoon of Muhammad. Remember the video of the Rodney King beating?

“What if we could use images in the reverse, to touch people in a profound, positive way? Hollywood may be a small industry, but it’s hugely important in reaching people.”

Indeed, more pledges and commitments from other members of the entertainment industry were expected before the meeting closes at 1 p.m. today.

Barbra Streisand has already given $1 million to Clinton’s efforts to fight global warming. (She arrived at the conference this week with her political advisor, Marge Tabankin.) Media mogul Haim Saban also was there. “Everyone has to do their part to bring about peace in this crazy world,” he said, running to a session on mitigating religious and ethnic conflicts.

Actress Anne Hathaway attended with her dashing Italian boyfriend, businessman Raffaello Follieri (they’re working together to provide medicine to poor children).

“I’ve been interested in international politics for a long time,” said Hathaway, who spent part of Wednesday evening chatting with friend Chelsea Clinton at the MOMA party. “I’m just here as a human being, a concerned citizen.”

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom offered advice on environmental issues. Michael Douglas stopped by to discuss his pet cause, disarmament. Chris Tucker, Jeffrey Wright and Cicely Tyson wanted to talk about Africa and poverty. Julia Ormond made a beeline for Laura Bush to discuss ways to end human trafficking and slavery.

“I see this as a great opportunity to access people who might be able to get some traction on this issue,” Ormond said.

Meanwhile, Artists for Amnesty director Bonnie Abaunza met with celebs to get their help on a list of human rights issues. The MOMA party proved to be the perfect place to network.

Abaunza held court at a small table in the center of the party. Hip-hop king Russell Simmons stopped by to discuss the violent diamond trade. She asked him if she could set up a private screening of the movie “Blood Diamond” for him. “Our hope is this movie will have a profound impact on the issue,” she said. “It will do what ‘Hotel Rwanda’ did.” A few minutes later, Ormond stopped by her table to discuss human trafficking. “There’s a senator I want you to meet,” Ormond told Abaunza. “He’s great on this.”

The actress then walked off to greet Clinton, who had finally arrived at the party.

Abaunza observed: “This is what it’s all about. It’s a convergence of people all coming together to figure out the best way to work together to impact global issues.”

20,000 rally for Darfur relief

Amnesty International declared Sept. 17 a “Global Day for Darfur,” and 20,000 people turned out for a Central Park rally, which coincided with the opening of the 61st United Nations session.

Oscar winner Mira Sorvino took the stage with Madeleine Albright, who was secretary of State in the Clinton administration, calling on the people of the world to step in to help end the violence, which has claimed the lives of at least 200,000 in the Darfur region of Sudan, where ethnic African tribes revolted against the Arab-led government three years ago. (The government is accused of unleashing brutal Arab militiamen known as the janjaweed.)

The U.N. Security Council has approved a peacekeeping force of 22,600 troops, but no deadline has been set to deploy them.

“Our concerns have to be humanitarian,” Albright told the crowd. “There are other things going on in the world besides Iraq, there are more people dying in Darfur than anywhere. People are more important than oil.”

Sorvino called on the United Nations to act, in a speech in New York and then later in Washington, where she addressed lawmakers on Wednesday.

“We stand at a critical crossroads in the Darfur crisis,” the actress told members of Congress. “We must not allow a security void to open at the end of the month.... This would be tantamount to condoning the slaughter of civilians who would be left completely vulnerable to janjaweed and government violence. The U.N. peacekeeping troops must be allowed to take over the mission as planned in October.”