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Saturday, 4 May, 2002, 07:24 GMT 08:24 UK
De Niro festival lifts Ground Zero
About a Boy
Hugh Grant's latest film About a Boy launches the festival
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By Tom Brook
In New York
line

Top movie talent from around the world is about to descend on the New York neighbourhood surrounding Ground Zero for a film festival designed to re-invigorate the community.

Martin Scorsese, Susan Sarandon, Kevin Spacey, Whoopi Goldberg and Meryl Streep are among the big names lending their support to the first Tribeca Film Festival - the brainchild of acting legend Robert De Niro.

Screenings will take place in several different venues, some at locations just a few hundred metres from where the World Trade Center's towers fell.

Robert De Niro
De Niro: Wanted to do something to help his city
Although there will be panel discussions on the impact of 11 September, the overall mood of the festival will be decidedly upbeat and celebratory.

The five-day Tribeca event kicks off on Wednesday with the US première of About a Boy.

It will close with special charity screenings of Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones.

During the festival more than 150 films will be shown, including 11 world premières.

Among them will be British film-maker Christopher Nolan's new thriller Insomnia, starring Al Pacino, Robin Williams and Hilary Swank.

The Tribeca Film Festival, which will highlight independent releases, also includes panel discussions on such topics as the influence of food on film and a rock and comedy concert.

The festival has a competitive section where directors of debut features and shorts will be vying for prizes.

'Devastated'

De Niro has initiated the festival with his long-time producing partner Jane Rosenthal.

Both are prominent players in New York's downtown film-making community, which is largely located in the Tribeca neighbourhood.

Rosenthal says the events of 11 September were pivotal in bringing the festival together.

Al Pacino stars with Hilary Swank in Insomnia
Al Pacino stars with Hilary Swank in Insomnia

"Robert De Niro and I had thought for many years about doing the film festival but it never felt like it was the right time," says Rosenthal.

"After 11 September our neighbourhood was so hard-hit and so devastated, not only physically but economically, that we felt we should try to do something for the neighbourhood and also to help stimulate economic development in lower Manhattan."

Aspirations

New York already has a well-established film festival which takes place in the autumn and traditionally screens foreign films and some independent pictures.

But many of the directors with work included in the new Tribeca festival think it will provide a much-needed alternative showcase.

Sigourney Weaver
Sigourney Weaver is among the stars lending support

Director Eric Eason, whose family drama Manito is being shown at Tribeca, says: "For a long time New York has had a great need for an independent film festival.

"Sundance is on the west coast for independent film and Tribeca aspires to be the New York version of that."

Sigourney Weaver has been shooting a movie in the city that deals with firefighters who died on 11 September.

She also sees the arrival of this new festival as significant.

"There is a whole Tribeca downtown film scene and if they can be the Sundance for this part of the world, fantastic, I'm in full support," Weaver says.

Visitors

The festival is designed to appeal to cineastes. But it is also a public relations exercise to promote lower Manhattan as a desirable venue in the wake of the economic and physical destruction wrought by the terror attacks.

Ground Zero in New York
The festival hopes to bring visitors back to the area around Ground Zero

The organisers hope the festival, and its related activities, will bring more than 30,000 visitors into a community where retailers and restaurants have suffered dramatic declines in revenue.

Rosenthal says: "In terms of what we hope to bring back to the local community, it's people, it's a sense of vitality.

"It's a sense that it's OK to come downtown again, and it's also a time too to honour those who have lost their lives."

Challenge

Those most directly impacted by 11 September, who live in the community, are also looking forward to a festival that promises to bring some much-needed relief.

In planning the event and dealing with her Tribeca neighbours Rosenthal found it heartening to hear people say: "It would be great to have our street closed off for a festival instead of emergency vehicles."

The big studios, city agencies and corporate underwriters have all given their backing to the Tribeca festival.

American Express has agreed to a multi-year sponsorship deal.

The organisers hope Tribeca will become more than just a one-off boost to the local economy.

Much of the support for the first festival has come from a sense of obligation and patriotism.

For the Tribeca Film Festival to develop real momentum it is going to have to earn respect from key players on the international film festival circuit, which is going to be quite a challenge.

The Tribeca Film Festival runs from 8 to 13 May.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Michelle Fluery
"Tribeca has drawn some big movies and big stars"
See also:

26 Mar 02 | Showbiz
De Niro to rock with Queen
14 Dec 01 | Film
De Niro voted greatest star
01 Feb 02 | Arts
Paltrow heads for London stage
10 Nov 01 | Americas
Residents move away from Ground Zero
10 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Ground Zero 'vision of hell'
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