NEW YORK – The Tribeca Film Festival, organized by Robert De Niro, was a double success: It was a high-profile venue for filmmakers to show their latest work and an economic boost to the neighborhood around Ground Zero.
"It absolutely exceeded our expectations," said festival co-founder Jane Rosenthal, Robert De Niro's Tribeca Productions partner. "We had a hundred thousand people down here Saturday for the family festival, it was magnificent."
And the people who live and work in the neighborhood that has been suffering a slump since Sept. 11 agree.
"It's done wonders for the neighborhood," said Claudia Duran, a manager in the Spanish restaurant Sol Del Flor in Tribeca. "Robert De Niro is a wonderful neighbor."
Bartender Joe Roberts said the crowds drawn downtown by the festival made all the difference in the weekend business.
"Normally it's not this crowded by any stretch," he said. "This is a very good thing for the neighborhood. I'd be very happy if they did it every year."
And that's the plan. De Niro and Rosenthal plan to make the Tribeca Film Festival an annual event, something Analyze This director Harold Ramis thinks is long overdue in New York City.
"It's a great thing under any circumstances," he said. "If September 11th had not occurred, a Tribeca film festival would still be a great idea."
The five-day festival featured screenings of movies from both new and established directors, panel discussions with some of the film world's brightest minds, and star-studded events including stand-up comedy from Robin Williams and Billy Crystal.
The celebrities in attendance said they were more than happy to lend their time to a worthy cause.
"It's a personal thing because it's Tribeca, it's Manhattan where I was born," said actor Al Pacino, whose new film Insomnia premiered at the festival over a weekend. "I'm having a great time."
A Beautiful Mind writer Akiva Goldsman added: "When Robert De Niro calls, you do whatever he tells you to at the other end of the phone. This is a great way to bring people together and reinvigorate the whole community."
But rubbing shoulders with famous faces was not all the festival was about, especially for some Star Wars fans.
Actress Tracy Pollan brought her three children downtown for the Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones premiere Sunday, where children of World Trade Center victims were also given a special sneak preview.
"This is the first time the kids have been down here since it happened," she said. "I think it's a boost the city needs."
And Star Wars showing also was more than just a chance to see the highly anticipated movie. "We have made a special effort for those children after 9/11," said Phil Coltoff, Executive Director of the Children's Aid Society, which helped organize the film showing. "This premiere will allow us to raise another half a million dollars so we can continue that work."
Like every other film festival, the Tribeca event featured movies from first-time directors and awarded prizes to the winners. But because the event was spurred by the terrorist attacks, there was less of the usual moving and shaking that goes on at other festivals like Cannes and Sundance.
"This was a reaction to 9/11, not about the movie business," said Miramax chief Harvey Weinstein. "You see thousands of people downtown and that's what it's about."
"I agree, I agree," said De Niro. "It brings people to the neighborhood. New York needs a festival that really represents it and hopefully this will be one of them."