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Thursday, 9 May, 2002, 11:13 GMT 12:13 UK
Film festival boosts New York
Nelson Mandela (left) with Robert De Niro, Hugh Grant and Whoopi Goldberg
Nelson Mandela (left) with Robert De Niro, Hugh Grant and Whoopi Goldberg
Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela have opened a New York film festival organised by Robert De Niro to revive an area badly hit by the World Trade Center attacks.

The former presidents of the United States and South Africa were among the dignitaries and screen stars at the launch of the Tribeca Film Festival, held in lower Manhattan, near where the twin towers once stood.

Bill Clinton met actor Kevin Spacey
Bill Clinton met actor Kevin Spacey
Actors Hugh Grant, Whoopi Goldberg and Kevin Spacey joined De Niro and the statesmen on the podium to help boost the area's economy and spread a wider message.

Film could help foster understanding and tolerance around the world, Mr Mandela told a crowd.

The festival is expected to attract 50,000 people and features the US premières of the new Star Wars movie and Grant's latest film, About A Boy.

De Niro, who has lived in Tribeca for 20 years, was planning a festival before 11 September, but said it took on extra significance after the attacks.

Mr Mandela said that the world had watched with admiration as the residents of New York rallied to cope with the tragedy.

'Reach out'

"The producers, directors and actors of films have in their hands a powerful and evocative tool for fostering understanding, and through that, tolerance in the world," he said.

Hugh Grant at the About A Boy première
The About A Boy première took place on Wednesday
"It is furthermore a medium that is not bound in its reach. It can reach out to all strata and sectors of society and across national and linguistic boundaries."

Mr Mandela, 83, received four standing ovations as he spoke on the steps of City Hall.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the former South African president told him that thinking about his favourite film scenes helped him through the "unspeakable loneliness" of imprisonment.

Sitting on the same stage as the politicians, Hugh Grant joked that he had been accused of being a lightweight actor in his time.

"And I can assure you I have never felt more lightweight than I do standing on this platform, in this company," he said.

Robert De Niro, Hugh Grant and Nelson Mandela
150 films will be shown over five days
But he said it was a "massive honour" to be opening the event.

"It's truly very important, especially for New York, and I love New York," he said.

The US première of About A Boy took place on Wednesday after becoming the most successful British film of the year in the UK.

Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones gets its première on Sunday, 12 May, four days before it goes on release at cinemas around the world.

More than 150 films will be shown over the five days of the festival.

See also:

14 Dec 01 | Film
De Niro voted greatest star
10 Nov 01 | Americas
Residents move away from Ground Zero
12 Mar 02 | Americas
US marks six months after attacks
17 Dec 01 | Business
New York's economy shrinks
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