The decision to screen Andrew Wakefield’s documentary Vazzed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe at the upcoming Tribeca Film Festival has caused uproar with both members of the film and scientific community. So much so that Tribeca co-founder Robert De Niro was first put on the defensive on the decision to world premiere the anti-vaccination documentary in the first place. However, all of the fuss was overruled today, as Tribeca has announced they will remove the film from their schedule altogether.
The film explores an investigation into how the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention destroyed data from a 2004 study that showed a link between the MMR (measles/mumps/rubella) vaccine and autism. Wakefield, the director and co-writer of the film, is a gastroenterologist who in back in 1998 made the assertion that a link may be in place between the vaccine and autism – his initial study focused on 12 patients. Wakefield’s conclusions have since been disavowed in the medical community and his medical license stripped. The initial programming of Vazzed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe was seen in some eyes as an endorsement of sorts to Wakefield’s field of study.
Critics came out in full force including acclaimed documentary filmmaker Penny Lane (Our Nixon), who recently premiered her doc Nuts! centering around an eccentric Depression-era doctor who tried to cure impotence with goat testicles. Lane wrote in a statement, “Tribeca Film Festival, I love you but you made a very serious mistake. 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.”
DeNiro initially defended the decision to screen the film saying: “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.” DeNiro and his Grace Hightower have a child with autism. The film was originally going to world premiere at Tribeca on April 24th with a public panel including the filmmakers and subject of the movie scheduled afterwards.
However, Tribeca has pulled the plug. DeNiro commented on the decision by saying, “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. 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 2016 Tribeca Film Festival runs in New York from April 13th-24th.