Anti-vaccine film banned from Tribeca fest finds home on screen
The controversy over Vaxxed: From Cover-up to Catastrophe hasn't proven catastrophic for its theatrical fortunes.
The film directed by Dr. Andrew Wakefield, which was first accepted into the Tribeca Film Festival then banished from it, cracked the top five among nonfiction titles at the box office over the weekend.
Vaxxed finished third in its opening weekend, collecting $28,340, according to audience measurement firm Rentrak.
The film, which accuses the Centers for Disease Control of deliberately suppressing data linking the Measles-Mumps-Rubella [MMR] vaccine to an increase in autism, is playing on a single screen at Angelika Film Center in New York. According to Vaxxed's website, Angelika has decided to book the documentary for an additional week.
Tribeca co-founder Robert De Niro, who with wife Grace Hightower has a child with autism, initially programmed the documentary into his festival, explaining his motives with this statement:
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.
De Niro later reversed himself under pressure from a variety of observers, including documentary filmmakers and scientists who said the film would not in fact serve to further discussion of vaccinations and autism but would simply provide a forum for debunked medical theories.
Other commentators pointed out that Dr. Wakefield's medical license was effectively revoked in Britain in 2010 after investigators there concluded he had falsified research linking MMR to autism. The British medical journal The Lancet, which originally published Dr. Wakefield's findings, later retracted it declaring Wakefield's paper "utterly false."
Nonetheless, the film's website maintains Vaxxed is based on "Interviews with pharmaceutical insiders, doctors, politicians, and parents of vaccine-injured children [which] reveal an alarming deception that has contributed to the skyrocketing increase of autism and potentially the most catastrophic epidemic of our lifetime."
Cinema Libre plans a "wide distribution" of the documentary, according to an article posted on Variety's website.
Variety quoted a statement from Cinema Libre Chairman Philippe Diaz in which he said, “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. The media storm of last week also revealed another issue; the 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.”
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and Documentary.org.