De Niro defends screening of anti-vaccination documentary at Tribeca

Festival co-founder issues statement over Andrew Wakefield film.

by Amber Wilkinson

Vaxxed: From Cover-Up To Catastrophe has now been pulled from the Tribeca line-up
Vaxxed: From Cover-Up To Catastrophe has now been pulled from the Tribeca line-up Photo: Courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival
Tribeca Film Festival co-founder Robert De Niro has defended the decision by the annual New York event to screen a controversial anti-vaccination documentary directed by discredited British gastroenterologist Andrew Wakefield.

Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe is also co-written by Wakefield, who became infamous in Britain after his 1998 study claiming a link between the combined measles-mumps-rubella vaccine and autism - which resulted in a health scare - was later found by the General Medical Council to have violated ethical standards. The British Medical Journal found aspects of the research "fraudulent", the study was retracted by The Lancet and Wakefield was subsequently struck off the medical register.

The NHS website says: "Andrew Wakefield's work has been completely discredited and he has been struck off as a doctor in the UK. Subsequent studies during the last eight years have found no link between the MMR vaccine and autism or bowel disease."

The New York Times reported that Wakefield's biography on the festival site "does not mention that he was stripped of his license or that his Lancet study was retracted". his biography has now been completely removed from the film listing.

In a statement, De Niro, referring to his wife Grace Hightower De Niro, said: “Grace and I 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. 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.”

In an open letter on her Facebook page, documentarian Penny Lane spoke out about the decision. She 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."

In response to a question about the documentary on their Twitter feed, Tribeca wrote: "Tribeca is about dialogue & conversation. We present opposing viewpoints without judgement or endorsement."

In a statement on March 26, De Niro announced that the festival has decided not to screen the documentary after all. Read the full story.

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