NEW YORK– The Tribeca Film Festival is canceling plans to host the world premiere of an anti-vaccine film called “Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe.”
Festival co-founder Robert De Niro, who defended the inclusion of the film just one day earlier, said Saturday that “we have decided to remove it from our schedule.”
The strange U-turn underscores the extraordinarily controversial nature of the public conversation around vaccinations.
“Vaxxed” was directed by Andrew Wakefield, an activist and former doctor whose 1998 study linking autism to childhood vaccines was discredited and retracted years ago.
Its acceptance into the prestigious Tribeca Film Festival came as a surprise. The Los Angeles Times highlighted the controversial decision earlier this week.
On Friday, De Niro came forward and said it was his advocacy for “Vaxxed” that landed it a spot on the festival schedule.
De Niro said he and his wife Grace Hightower “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,” De Niro said in a statement. “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.'”
He emphasized that he is not “personally endorsing the film,” nor is he “anti-vaccination.”
About 24 hours later, De Niro followed up with a new and very different statement.
“After reviewing” the film “over the past few days with the Tribeca Film Festival team and others from the scientific community, we do not believe it contributes to or furthers the discussion I had hoped for,” he said in a statement distributed by the festival.
De Niro continued: “The festival doesn’t seek to avoid or shy away from controversy. 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.”
De Niro did not specify who “we” represented, but the festival was also co-founded by Jane Rosenthal and Craig Hatkoff.
On Saturday evening, the web site for “Vaxxed” still promoted an April 24 premiere at Tribeca. Tickets were supposed to go on sale next Tuesday. Representatives for the film did not respond to requests for comment.