The distributor’s announcement came late Tuesday, three days after the Tribeca Film Festival pulled “Vaxxed” from its lineup with festival co-founder Robert De Niro explaining it did not contribute to or further the discussion he had hoped for about issues surrounding autism.
The documentary will premiere Friday at the Angelika FiIm Center in New York City. Cinema Libre has not revealed future distribution plans other than saying it will be “widely released” in other cities.
“Vaxxed” is co-written and directed by Andrew Wakefield, a former surgeon and medical researcher who published a discredited 1998 research paper that claimed that the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine was linked to autism. Wakefield was accused of professional misconduct and falsifying information in that study, and the Lancet, the journal that ran the research, retracted the piece. The British doctor has been barred from practicing medicine in the U.K.
“Vaxxed” purports to investigates the claims of a senior scientist at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who revealed that the CDC had allegedly manipulated and destroyed data on an important study about autism and the MMR vaccine. Cinema Libre Studio said Tuesday it has been working with the “Vaxxed” team since the fall and has acquired worldwide distribution rights from Autism Media Channel.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, there is no link between vaccination and autism. The anti-vaccination movement has lowered vaccination rates, which in turn has been linked to a recurrence of vaccine-preventible diseases such as measles and mumps.
In an open letter last week, documentary filmmaker Penny Lane (“Our Nixon”) described Wakefield as a “discredited and dangerous anti-vaccination quack.”
Cinema Libre Chairman Philippe Diaz said in a statement, “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.”
Diaz also asserted that neither the film not Wakefield are anti-vaccine.
“Wakefield’s concern for the last twenty years has been about making sure that vaccines are safe for children,” he added. “This is why we decided to release the film now rather than as originally planned later in the year.”
Richard Castro, head of distribution, said, “It’s disturbing that an American film festival can succumb so easily to pressure to censor a film that it has already selected an announced. On Friday I received a call from Tribeca executives expressing concerns about showing the film, but no opportunity was afforded our filmmakers to even address those concerns. When I questioned the rationale, it was indicated that sponsors’ interest was a factor.”
“Vaxxed” is produced by Del Bigtree and includes interviews with Dr. Brian Hooker, to whom Thompson leaked documents as well as interviews with several autism “experts” (Dr. Doreen Granpeesheh, Mark Blaxill, Polly Tommey), practicing family physicians (Dr. James M. Sears, Dr. Rachel Ross), former pharmaceutical drug representative Brandy Vaughn, research scientists (Dr. Luc Montagnier, Stephanie Seneff) and Rep. Bill Posey (R.-Fla.).
De Niro and his wife, Grace Hightower, have an autistic child. He said in his March 26 statement that it was “critical” that all of the issues surrounding the causes of autism be openly discussed and examined.
“The Festival doesn’t seek to avoid or shy away from controversy,” he added. “However, we have concerns with certain things in this film that we feel prevent us from presenting it in the Festival program. We have decided to remove it from our schedule.”