Update: The film has now been pulled.
There's something strange about Tribeca Film Festival's 2016 documentary line-up. It includes a film produced by the man who's been linked to jumpstarting mass, unfounded hysteria over vaccinations. That man is Andrew Wakefield, and in 1998 he infamously - and wrongfully - presented a paper claiming that a combination vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR), could be linked to the onset of autism.
In the fallout from his error-riddled presentation, his so-called findings were discredited in close to every way possible: The paper was retracted. Wakefield was stripped of his medical licence, found guilty of "abusing a position of trust as a medical practitioner", and found guilty of "dishonesty" in his studies.
You wouldn't know it from looking at Tribeca's website, however. Here's how they describe the film, called Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe:
"Digging into the long-debated link between autism and vaccines, Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe 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."
As for its producer, Andrew Wakefield, all Tribeca says about him is this:
"Andrew Wakefield, MB.BS., is an academic gastroenterologist who practiced medicine at the Royal Free in the UK publishing over 140 scientific papers. In 1995, he was contacted by parents of autistic children with stomach issues; he learned that these conditions often occurred immediately following an MMR vaccine.
In pursuit of this possible link, Dr. Wakefield led an initial study of 12 children with both stomach and developmental issues. The report, published in The Lancet, would catapult Wakefield into becoming one of the most controversial figures in the history of medicine. Vaxxed: From Cover-up to Controversy is his second film."
Not surprisingly, the festival is already getting a lot of heat for its choice to include the movie in its line-up.
Documentarian Penny Lane, who received the Tribeca Film Institute's Documentary Fund (not the same entity as the Festival) in 2012 and recently produced a film about a doctor who "built an empire with his goat-testicle impotence cure", wrote a scathing public letter to Tribeca on Facebook about its choice.
"Dear Tribeca Film Festival, I love you but you made a very serious mistake," Lane wrote. She adds: "Your online film festival guide helpfully suggests if I'm interested in Vaxxed, I might also be interested in the category of 'documentaries'. Well, as a documentary filmmaker who spent eight years making a film about a quack: yes … I am interested in your choice to screen Vaxxed and what it means for documentaries."
Who is Andrew Wakefield and how did his infamous vaccine study go so viral?
Back in 1998, when Wakefield was still working as a physician (he's since been stripped of his medical licence, found guilty of "abusing a position of trust as a medical practitioner", and found guilty of "dishonesty" in his studies), London's Royal Free Hospital held a press conference to publicise a paper he'd written (which has since been retracted) for the esteemed medical journal The Lancet.
The paper was about vaccinations.
In it, Wakefield claimed that one vaccination in particular, a popular innoculation for measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), could be linked to the onset of autism, a serious neurodevelopmental disorder characterised by impaired social interaction.
But the damage was done. And its after-effects continue to be felt today, from vaccination rates that declined in the wake of Wakefield's publicity to new outbreaks of measles and other illnesses for which perfectly safe innoculations exist.
The new film, whose official synopsis, according to Indiewire, doesn't even allude to any of the above, is set to premier Sunday, April 24, at the Tribeca Film Festival.
According to the Tribeca Film Festival website, the documentary, "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".
Here's the statement Tribeca provided to The Cut on its decision to include the film: "Tribeca, as most film festivals, are about dialogue and discussion. Over the years we have presented many films from opposing sides of an issue. We are a forum, not a judge."
This article was originally published by Business Insider.
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