New York Now more than ever, films can help foster understanding and respect among people around the world, Nelson Mandela said Wednesday at the start of the Tribeca Film Festival.
The former South African president joined former President Clinton, actors Robert De Niro, Hugh Grant and Kevin Spacey, directors Barry Levinson and Francis Ford Coppola and others in opening the inaugural festival.
The 83-year-old Mandela received four standing ovations during a ceremony on the steps of City Hall, one of which came as he entered and sat down with the help of actress Whoopi Goldberg.
In introducing Mandela, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Mandela described how important movies were to him during the 20 years he was incarcerated as a political prisoner.
"He talked about one thing that helped him get through the unspeakable loneliness in prison on Robben Island, and that was thinking about his favorite movie scenes," Bloomberg said.
After his release from prison in 1990, Mandela visited the Tribeca Film Center, which De Niro formed in 1988 with his business partner, producer Jane Rosenthal. Now that they've created a festival, Rosenthal said, they asked him to speak at the opening.
"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," Mandela said.
"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."
De Niro and Rosenthal organized the festival to help reinvigorate the economy of lower Manhattan, which was hit hard by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. About 50,000 people are expected to attend the festival, which continues through Sunday.
Some 150 films are being shown, including Wednesday night's premiere of Grant's new movie, "About a Boy."
After Bloomberg introduced Grant as a great actor, the star quipped, "I have in my time been accused as an actor of being a bit lightweight, and I can assure you I have never felt more lightweight than I do standing on this platform, in this company."
Also scheduled are the premiere of "Star Wars: Episode II ï¿½ Attack of the Clones," as a fund-raiser for children affected by the terrorist attacks, and a series of films made in the wake of Sept. 11.