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Stars come out for Tribeca Fest

Mayor Bloomberg expects 50,000 for event

With nearly as much pomp and circumstance as the launch of a political campaign for the White House, the inaugural Tribeca Film Festival kicked off in front of City Hall late Wednesday, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg stood on a dais welcoming some 500 filmmakers, press and guests to downtown Manhattan.

Bloomberg, who said the fest would draw some 50,000 people to lower Manhattan over the four-day event, was flanked by such figures as Nelson Mandela, Bill Clinton, George Pataki, Francis Ford Coppola, Barry Levinson, Whoopi Goldberg, Hugh Grant, American Express Chairman-CEO Kenneth Chenault and Tribeca Film Festival co-founders Jane Rosenthal and Robert De Niro.

The Mayor read a note from Pres. George W. Bush, who sent his best wishes for the festival and praised movies’ ability to “inspire and challenge us” and “examine life from new perspectives.”

Mandela drew several standing ovations. The former president of South Africa called movies “a powerful and evocative tool for fostering understanding and tolerance in the world.” He added that it was a “singular honor” to have been invited by De Niro.

The Mayor announced that Tribeca founding sponsor American Express, which has been in lower Manhattan since 1850 but was forced to move into temporary offices outside of the neighborhood due to Sept. 11, would return to the downtown area on May 13, the day after the fest ends.

Both Clinton and the Mayor pointed to Mandela, saying “If more people had your vision, Sept. 11 would have never happened.”

Rosenthal, who was seated next to her friend Clinton, said, “We cajoled, pleaded and begged and somehow it all came together.” She added that one of the mission’s of the fest was to “help bring back the joy we once new in this city, one smile at a time.”

De Niro asked for a moment of silence for those who lost their lives on Sept. 11.

“We’re all New Yorkers,” declared Pataki. “We’re here to make sure that New York comes back stronger and better … we will rebuild lower Manhattan and make it better than before Sept. 11 … the most important first step is this film festival.”

Grant, who stars in the fest’s opening night pic “About a Boy,” added a lighter note to all the pomp and circumstance. “I have never felt more light weight than I have felt standing on this stage,” he said.