By now most people have heard about the controversy surrounding Tribeca, Robert De Niro and Andrew Wakefield.
If you haven’t here’s the short version. Wakefield directed a film, Vaxxed, that was accepted to the Tribeca film festival. The trailer looks like a one way trip down a rabbit hold of conspiracy theories. The fact that such a biased and false take on vaccines was accepted to such a prestigious film festival upset many, myself included.
The film has since been pulled from the line-up (basically 48 hours after it was announced that it would be screened), but there are some lingering questions.
The Festival’s mission is to help filmmakers reach the broadest possible audience, enable the international film community and general public to experience the power of cinema and promote New York City as a major filmmaking center. Tribeca Film Festival is well known for being a diverse international film festival that supports emerging and established directors. The Festival has screened over 1400 films from over 80 countries since its first festival in 2002. Since its founding, it has attracted an international audience of more than 4 million attendees and has generated an estimated $750 million in economic activity for New York City.
Andrew Wakefield is a first time filmmaker. How many unknown first timers with no degree in film studies are lucky enough to get their movie accepted into one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world?
I get the controversy aspect of any film for a festival (putting the lies about vaccines and autism aside for a minute), but doesn’t the movie itself actually have to be good? If the trailer is any indication Vaxxed looks like it is a nuance-free exercise in conspiracy theory self-pleasuring and not a new take. It is an iMovie 101 anti-vaccine trope fest. I’m pretty sure I could make a better and more compelling Vaxxed trailer, but I bet subtly doesn’t sell with the conspiracy theory crowd for whom this movie was undoubtedly made.
And then there is the bias. If someone working at SeaWorld made a movie about life for killer whales at the aquarium it wouldn’t have quite the same weight as say a known documentary film maker become intrigued with the subject. The festival can’t say they didn’t know about Wakefield, he’s practically a meme by now. But say the jury at Tribeca have been so steeped in movies that they have never read anything about anything else ever, well I’d still like to think they Google all their new film makers to make sure that A) they have some kind of qualification to make the film and B) aren’t out on bail for child pornography. A simple Google search tells you that Andrew Wakefield falsified information about a link between vaccines and autism. One click reveals evidence that he took money from lawyers looking to sue vaccine manufacturers and apparently hoped to financially gain from a competing “safer” vaccine. In short, he has an incredible amount of bias, some might say he is the most biased person possible on the subject of vaccines and autism, and no experience in film. With that in mind how could he direct a compelling documentary worthy of Tribeca?
De Niro initially defended the film’s inclusion and his statement seems to imply that he may have asked specifically to include it:
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.
Given Wakefield’s original bio is so laughable and incorrect he must really have been given carte blanche:
— Joe Hanson (@jtotheizzoe) March 25, 2016
The fact that De Niro had the film pulled so soon after the controversy erupted makes me wonder how much he really had to do with it? If vaccines and autism were his passion project I doubt he would have backed down so quickly. I also can’t believe Vaxxed made it through the submission process and someone actually said, “My God what a compelling piece of movie making and what a fresh, and nuanced take on the subject!”
So how exactly did Andrew Wakefield get Vaxxed into Tribeca to begin with?
If you want to see the trailer for Vaxxed here’s a link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EdCU2DfMBpU