FINAL UPDATE, Wednesday 11 AM: Distributor Cinema Libre Studio announced this morning that Vaxxed: From Cover-Up To Catastrophe will have its premiere at New York’s Angelika Film Center in an exclusive engagement starting April 1, following the deselection of film by the Tribeca Film Festival. TFF announced the doc as part of this year’s festival but canceled after questions were raised about the film.
“We chose to distribute this film to correct a major issue, which is the suppression of medical data by a governmental agency that may very well be contributing to a significant health crisis,” said Cinema Libre Chairman Philippe Diaz, adding that the film had been the victim of “hyper-mediatization…by some members of the media and the documentary community who had not even seen the film, as well as Tribeca executives, which condemned it as anti-vaccine. This film is not anti-vaccine” but “about making sure that vaccines are safe for children.”
2ND UPDATE, 10:20 PM: The Vaxxed filmmakers responded this evening to Robert De Niro’s statement on behalf of himself and the Tribeca Film Festival canceling the premiere at next month’s fest:
“To our dismay, we learned today about the Tribeca Film Festival’s decision to reverse the official selection of Vaxxed: From Cover-Up To Catastrophe,” said Andrew Wakefield and Del Bigtree (the director and producer, respectively). “Robert De Niro’s original defense of the film happened Friday after a one-hour conversation between De Niro and Bill Posey, the congressman who has interacted directly and at length with the CDC Whistleblower (William Thompson) and whose team has scrutinized the documents that prove fraud at the CDC.
“It is our understanding that persons from an organization affiliated with the festival have made unspecified allegations against the film,” the statement continued, “claims that we were given no opportunity to challenge or redress. We were denied due process. We have just witnessed yet another example of the power of corporate interests censoring free speech, art, and truth. Tribeca’s action will not succeed in denying the world access to the truth behind the film Vaxxed.”
The statement did not explain how the filmmakers had been denied due process, when no issue of law has been raised with respect to the film. Nor did it address how Vaxxed was being censored by losing its platform at TFF. No effort is being made to keep the film out of the marketplace. As reported earlier by Deadline, the selection of the anti-vaccination documentary prompted an outcry from doctors, researchers and activists against the largely discredited science behind the film.
UPDATE: Robert De Niro and the Tribeca Film Festival have reversed their decision to screen Vaxxed: From Cover-Up To Catastrophe, now saying the anti-vaccine film does not contribute to the discussion De Niro had hoped for.
“My intent in screening this film was to provide an opportunity for conversation around an issue that is deeply personal to me and my family,” De Niro said in a statement. “But after reviewing it over the past few days with the Tribeca Film Festival team and others from the scientific community, we do not believe it contributes to or furthers the discussion I had hoped for.”
The statement continued: “The Festival doesn’t seek to avoid or shy away from controversy. However, we have concerns with certain things in this film that we feel prevent us from presenting it in the Festival program. We have decided to remove it from our schedule.”
PREVIOUS: Tribeca Film Festival co-founder Robert De Niro today took direct responsibility for the fest’s world-premiere screening of Vaxxed: From Cover-Up To Catastrophe, a documentary about a purported link between the MMR (measles/mumps/rubella) vaccine and an uptick in autism. That claim has been widely discredited in the medical community.
The controversy has provoked angry confrontations between those convinced of a conspiracy to cover-up the “truth” about the vaccine’s potential for irreversible damage and those who insist that no such link exists and that denying children the vaccination puts an enormous population at grave risk. Giving the film a major platform, they say, legitimizes a “debate” where none exists. Today’s statement from De Niro fanned the flames already surrounding the scheduled screening next month.
De Niro and his wife, Grace Hightower, “have a child with autism and we believe it is critical that all of the issues surrounding the causes of autism be openly discussed and examined,” De Niro said in a statement distributed by the TFF Friday afternoon. “In the 15 years since the Tribeca Film Festival was founded, I have never asked for a film to be screened or gotten involved in the programming. However this is very personal to me and my family and I want there to be a discussion, which is why we will be screening Vaxxed. I am not personally endorsing the film, nor am I anti-vaccination; I am only providing the opportunity for a conversation around the issue.”
It’s precisely that “conversation” that has drawn fire, however, from critics of the anti-vaccination movement in general and Vaxxed in particular. The film is directed by Andrew Wakefield, a gastroenterologist who first asserted the link in 1998 in a study based on 12 patients. Subsequent to its publication, Wakefield’s work was disavowed by The Lancet, the prestigious medical journal that first gave weight to his argument. After further investigation, Wakefield was stripped of his medical license. Later studies dismissed the idea of a link between MMR and autism, while the medical establishment responded emphatically that denying children the vaccine put the whole population at risk of contracting childhood diseases that had been all but erased.
“Andrew Wakefield has become one of the most reviled doctors of his generation, blamed directly and indirectly, depending on the accuser, for irresponsibly starting a panic with tragic repercussions: vaccination rates so low that childhood diseases once all but eradicated here — whooping cough and measles, among them — have re-emerged, endangering young lives,” The New York Times reported in a 2011 profile.
Yet the TFF promotional material could easily be taken to endorse Wakefield’s cause. “Digging into the long-debated link between autism and vaccines, Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe features revealing and emotional interviews with pharmaceutical insiders, doctors, politicians, parents, and one whistleblower to understand what’s behind the skyrocketing increase of autism diagnoses today.” Also this: “The most vitriolic debate in medical history takes a dramatic turn when senior-scientist-turned-whistleblower Dr. William Thompson of the Centers for Disease Control turns over secret documents, data and internal emails confirming what millions of devastated parents and ‘discredited’ doctors have long-suspected.”
Penny Lane, a documentary filmmaker with strong links to the TFF and an interest in quack doctors (NUTS!, about a Depression-era doctor who used goat testicle transplants to “cure” impotence, was shown at the Sundance Film Festival), released an open letter to Tribeca on the issue.
“Tribeca Film Festival, I love you but you made a very serious mistake,” Lane wrote. “Very possibly, some people will walk away from your festival having been convinced, in part because of your good name and the excellence and integrity of your documentary programming, not to vaccinate their children. And very possibly people will die as a result.”
As of this writing, Vaxxed is scheduled to have its world premiere at the TFF on April 24, followed by a public discussion with the creators and subjects of the film after the screening.