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Robert De Niro, co-founder of the Tribeca Film Festival, is defending the festival’s decision to screen controversial documentary Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe, directed by Andrew Wakefield — although he said he is not personally endorsing the film.
According to the festival description of the film, the documentary, which screens April 24, “features revealing and emotional interviews with insiders, doctors, politicians, parents and one whistleblower to understand the skyrocketing increase of autism diagnoses today.”
Wakefield is a former British surgeon and medical researcher who became a leading voice in the anti-vaccination movement, having authored a 1998 research paper that claimed to link the MMR vaccine (for measles, mumps and rubella) to autism, a study that has since been discredited by other researchers and journalists and, in 2010, formally retracted by the journal that published it.
The festival’s decision to program Wakefield’s new documentary has begun to attract criticism. Calling Wakefield “the widely discredited and dangerous anti-vaccination quack,” documentary filmmaker Penny Lane penned an open letter to the festival, posted at filmmakermagazine.com, in which she called the programming of the doc “a very serious mistake,” saying, “Consider how many lies there are in the first 30 seconds of the Vaxxed trailer. Wakefield’s cinematic disregard of the truth means his film should not be called a documentary.”
With the festival facing mounting criticism, De Niro responded today. “Grace and I have a child with autism and we believe it is critical that all the issues surrounding the causes of autism be openly discussed and examined,” he said. “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.”
De Niro’s statement references his wife, Grace Hightower, with whom he has two children.
The festival has said it will hold a conversation with the filmmakers and the subjects of the film following the screening.
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