Robert De Niro, togetherwith his business partner Jane Rosenthal, formally unveiled plans yesterday fortheir new four-day film festival in downtown Manhattan that they hope can helprevitalize a neighbourhood devastated by the terror attacks on September 11th.

The first annual TribecaFilm Festival will run from May 1st-May 5th and showcasesome 40 feature length films and 20 shorts at various screening venues acrossthe Tribeca warehouse district that is sited within a short walking distancefrom where the Twin Towers once stood.

De Niro said he hoped thepresence of festival-goers can help stimulate a local economy that has sufferedfrom reduced foot traffic over the past few months as the painstaking clean-upprocess continues beyond the police barricades.

"There are businessesdown here that need help, small businesses, everything," said De Niro, along-time Tribeca resident who established his Tribeca Film Centre in theneighbourhood as well as various restaurant partnerships. "I'm notsure how [the festival] will help specifically. It'll take on a life of itsown, but it'll take on a good, positive life and it'll definitely help in somany ways.

The media attention thatsuch an event will inevitably draw will also help project an image of adowntown New York being reborn, rising from the ashes as a vibrant hub forcultural pursuits as well as high finance. As an indication of the kind ofstar-power that the festival may be able to attract next May, De Niro made hisannouncement yesterday alongside Meryl Streep, Ed Burns and Martin Scorsese- as well as the Governor of New York State, George Pataki.

For her part, Streepsuggested she might welcome being on the jury that will present an EmergingFilmmaker Award and a prize for Best Short Film; Burns, another Tribecaresident, hoped his own films would be showcased at the festival; and Scorsesehad high hopes that the planned free outdoor screening of a film retrospectivecan introduce New Yorkers to archival films that hardly get shown theatricallyalong the US East Coast.

Although it will focus onindependent features and foreign-language films, the festival organizers haveno ambitions to compete with either the Sundance Film Festival, the New YorkFilm Festival or even the Cannes Film Festival that starts just a few dayslater. "We want this to have its own defining flavour," saidRosenthal. "We don't want to try copying anyone else -although we will gladly learn from others."

Far from attempting to grabthe premieres to the hottest titles that might play the festival circuit suchas his own upcoming Gangs Of New York, Scorsese felt theTribeca Film Festival would be better served concentrating on films overlookedby the major festivals as well as under-exposed foreign films that might havebeen seen at festivals outside the US only. "I think what's needed here isfour days and nights of a bunch of young people coming down, and people whosefilms were not accepted in other venues." he said.

Scorsese added that showingforeign films and exposing festival-goers to other international cultures,particularly at this time, can only help to enrich American audiences andfilmmakers. "If we just concentrate on ourselves, it's a deadend."

A board is to be created tohelp the programe selection process for the Tribeca Film Festival, whosefeatures will include a presentation of films celebrating New York as abackdrop. Trina Wyatt, chief operating officer of Tribeca Entertainment, willserve as Executive Director.

Beyond that the immediate plans remainsketchy at best, with De Niro the first to admit that his latest new venturehas an element of trial and error about it as the Tribeca Film Festival findsit feet along with the rest of downtown: "We'll make mistakes andnext year we'll correct them."