Robert De Niro has come out in support of including a controversial anti-vaccine documentary as part of the lineup at this year's Tribeca Film Festival, saying the issue is "very close to me and my family."
The festival is under fire for including "Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe" – a film by a doctor who was stripped of his medical license after publishing a study that was later disproved – in the 2016 roster of documentaries.
"Vaxxed" explores the anti-vaccine movement and insists that autism and vaccines are connected, despite a lack of evidence linking the two.
Behind the film is British doctor Andrew Wakefield, who published the 1998 paper linking the Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR) vaccine to developmental disorders, including autism, in children. Wakefield was subsequently stripped of his medical license and researchers have discredited his paper and found there is no link between autism and vaccines.
According to festival co-founder De Niro, the film provides an "opportunity for a conversation around the issue."
"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," said De Niro in the statement posted to Facebook on Friday. "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."
According to a blurb about the film on the festival's website, "Vaxxed" 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."
Critics were quick to note the promotional wording on the website cites Wakefield as "an academic gastroenterologist" but does not acknowledge the retraction of the medical study on the subject.
Soon after the announcement of the film's inclusion at the festival, critics of Wakefield and the anti-vaccine movement took to social media to decry the decision.
Documentary filmaker Penny Lane took to Facebook to express her displeasure with the choice. "A lot of people, including those who buy tickets to see docs at your festival, believe documentary film has become an important form of news. But journalists are expected to tell the truth – or at least not knowingly spread dangerous lies. Your choice to include 'Vaxxed' in your documentary lineup – a lineup including films about abortion, Syrian refugees, solitary confinement, the American electoral system, in-vitro fertilization and drone warfare – suggests that you think documentary filmmakers can’t be held even to the latter standard. This threatens the credibility of not just the other filmmakers in your doc slate, but the field in general."
The Tribeca Film Festival will take place April 13-24. Visit TribecaFilm.com/Festival for more information about TFF’s 2016 programs and the full line-up of films.