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Robert De Niro plans a film festival near Ground Zero

Plus news about Eddie Murphy, Christina Ricci, Wes Bentley, Erin Brockovich, Michael Michele, Cate Blanchett, Sean ”P. Diddy” Combs, Pamela Anderson, and others

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Robert De Niro
Robert De Niro: REMI

REEL DEALS Robert De Niro will spearhead a new film festival in TriBeCa, the lower Manhattan neighborhood just north of Ground Zero that was especially hard-hit economically by the attacks. The TriBeCa Film Festival, to be held May 1 to 5, will screen some 40 features and 20 short films. De Niro, a fixture of the neighborhood for 20 years (he co-owns several area restaurants and runs his TriBeCa Productions film company there), said plans for a festival had been in the works for months but were given new urgency after Sept. 11. ”I think what’s needed here is four days and nights of a bunch of young people coming down, and people whose films were unable to be accepted in other venues,” said De Niro pal Martin Scorsese. Highlights will include a free outdoor screening, panel discussions, and a series of films celebrating New York….

After all the fat suits he’s had to wear playing various Klumps in the ”Nutty Professor” movies, it’s no wonder Eddie Murphy wants to star in a remake of ”The Incredible Shrinking Man.” ”Scary Movie”’s Keenen Ivory Wayans is in talks to direct the sci-fi spoof, which will begin shooting in June….

Christina Ricci has appeared in some 33 movies over the last 11 years, so the 21-year-old actress feels ready to make her directing debut. In early 2002, she’ll direct and star in ”The Speed Queen,” based on Stewart O’Nan‘s crime novel….

Nicolas Cage also wants to make his directing debut. He’s been scouting locations in New Orleans for ”Sonny,” a drama about a young gigolo trying to get out of the business and out from under the thumb of his brothel-owning mother. Cage reportedly hopes to cast ”American Beauty”’s Wes Bentley in the lead….

Now that ”Harry Potter” and ”The Lord of the Rings” have made the screen safe for large-scale fantasy franchises, it was inevitable that someone would try to film ”The Chronicles of Narnia,” C.S. Lewis‘ classic seven-part series of novels about four British children who find a portal in the back of a wardrobe to a fairy-tale world facing an epic good-vs.-evil struggle. Walden Media has optioned the series and plans to adapt the books one by one, working in concert with Lewis’ stepson, Douglas Gresham. The books have a strong element of Christian allegory (their Christ figure is a lion named Aslan), which helps explain the interest of Walden, a new company whose mission is ”marrying popular entertainment and education,” and which is backed by billionaire and committed Christian Philip Anschutz, owner of several of the U.S.’ most prominent theater chains. The first film, ”The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” should hit screens by 2004….

He can catch crocodiles and snakes with his bare hands, but can Steve Irwin handle Hollywood sharks? The adventurous Aussie zoologist is shooting an MGM movie in Brisbane called ”Crocodle Hunter — Collision Course,” reportedly based on his own life. His wife and Animal Planet series costar Terri Irwin also appears in the film.