By MELENA RYZIK
APRIL 1, 2016
A roiling controversy over the truthfulness and intent of a documentary about the widely debunked link between vaccines and autism did not keep theatergoers away from its premiere on Friday. Several dozen people (and more than a handful of reporters) arrived for the first showing of “Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe” at the Angelika Film Center in Manhattan, along with a producer and co-writer of the film, and some of its distributors.
The movie, about the supposed connection between autism and vaccines, had been accepted for a screening later this month at the Tribeca Film Festival and then suddenly removed amid criticism. Robert De Niro, a founder of the festival, initially supported the showing but then decided to drop it, saying that upon reviewing it with scientific professionals, he felt it would not contribute to a positive discussion about public health issues.
Still, moviegoers were eager to see it on Friday. Bonnie Peters drove from Palm City, Fla. “Regardless of whether your stance is pro-vaccine or anti-vaccine, you should have the opportunity to know all the facts,” said Ms. Peters, 66, who described herself as “more pro-information,” and who has two grandsons with autism. “I want to see both sides of the story,” she said. She left the screening in tears.
The film was directed and co-written by Andrew Wakefield, an author of a 1998 study that suggested the link. The study, published by the British medical journal The Lancet, was retracted in 2010. Though the film mentions the retraction, it does not note that the British General Medical Council revoked Mr. Wakefield’s medical license, citing ethics violations and financial conflicts of interest. Mr. Wakefield appears in “Vaxxed” as an expert on the topic.
“Wakefield doesn’t just have a dog in this fight; he is the dog,” the critic Eric Kohn wrote in his review of the film for the cinema site Indiewire. Calling it “one-sided propaganda,” he added that the film walks a “troubling ethical line, pushing an outrageous agenda only evident to viewers willing to look beneath its paranoid surface.”
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