De Niro was emotional as he received the honour from filmmaker Martin Scorsese, whom he called his "friend, lifelong collaborator" and "one of the greatest blessings of (his) life", reported variety.com.
The Oscar-winning actor said: "Sadly, in my country, we're going through a period of grotesque version of nationalism. Not the kind of nationalism where we celebrate the quality and character of our diverse population; but rather a diabolic form of nationalism marked by greed, xenophobia and selfishness under the banner of 'America First'.
"This stands in contrast with what brings us tonight. The arts don't respect borders... the arts celebrate diversity, origins and ideas. Look at us here tonight we're enjoying films from 29 countries; we're united in our love for films and our common humanity," added De Niro, drawing repeated ovations and cheers from the audience.
Scorsese introduced De Niro's tribute with a moving, funny and vibrant speech in which he paid homage to the actor's "amazing body of work" before showing a sprawling and meticulous selection of clips - some of which were entire scenes - from De Niro's films.
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