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Tribeca Film Festival Under Fire for Premiering New Documentary from ‘Quack’ Anti-Vaccine Doctor

Tribeca Film Festival Under Fire for Premiering New Documentary from 'Quack' Anti-Vaccine Doctor

UPDATED: This post has been updated to include a personal note from filmmaker Penny Lane and a note from Robert De Niro, co-founder of the festival.

The Tribeca Film Festival is currently under fire for a curious inclusion on this year’s documentary slate: An offering titled “Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe” from a newly minted documentarian named Andrew Wakefield. The film is Wakefield’s first, likely because he’s long been occupied with his principal career: Doctor. But, if you’re at all familiar with Wakefield’s history, you have may have another word for it: Quack.

Over at The Cut, the outlet writes about the real Andrew Wakefield, best known not for his documentary career, but for writing a paper in 1998 that linked vaccines to autism. As they note, “he’s not a doctor anymore. He was stripped of his medical license and found guilty of ‘abuse of developmentally challenged children’ and of ‘dishonesty’ in his studies by a hearing of his peers.” But while Wakefield’s research has been debunked many times over the years, the theories that his original paper put forth have only endured amongst certain groups. And now he’s got a documentary to show about the whole thing.

The Cut also notes that the film includes “star” Jim Sears, “of the famous Sears family of pediatricians. Jim Sears’s father, Dr. Bill Sears, is responsible for the unfounded ‘adjusted’ vaccination schedule, which suggests a calendar for inoculation different from the CDC’s and is often used to signal a rebellious distaste for the CDC’s recommendation of fully vaccinating children. Though Dr. Jim says he is pro-vaccine, he also says in a statement that he is ‘pro truth’ and then goes on to suggest that it’s possible that the CDC committed fraud and conspiracy.”

READ MORE: Tribeca Film Festival 2016 Announces New Digital Marketplace

The film’s official synopsis doesn’t hint at any of this, instead offering up a mostly straightforward line that fails to mention anything about Wakefield’s checkered past. From the Tribeca Film Festival website: “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.”

A Tribeca Film Festival spokesperson recently provided The Cut with a statement regarding the matter, which reads: “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.”

But other people are not staying silent on the matter. Documentarian Penny Lane, who recently debuted her newest feature, “Nuts!,” at this year’s Sundance, has plenty to say and a personal reason to say it: Per a note she dropped to Indiewire, she considers herself “a documentary filmmaker concerned about quackery,” a topic she chronicled in “Nuts!”

(Also of note, in 2012, Lane was a recipient of the Tribeca Film Institute’s Documentary Fund, which is not the same entity as the Festival, a distinction we’ve corrected here from our earlier post.)

Lane took to her Facebook page to share an open letter to the festival admonishing their decision to include “Vaxxed” on this year’s slate.

In part, Lane wrote: 

“Dear Tribeca Film Festival, I love you but you made a very serious mistake.

On Monday, the widely discredited and dangerous anti-vaccination quack Andrew Wakefield tweeted: ‘Haven’t posted forever. Huge news tomorrow.’

Perhaps he hadn’t ‘posted forever’ because the media finally stopped giving him a megaphone. Perhaps once people in America and England began dying of measles, journalists finally realized that the ‘two sides to every story’ approach granted Wakefield was literally killing people. 

Last I heard, Wakefield was headlining Conspira-Sea, a seven-day cruise where passengers learn about crop circles, chemtrails, yogic flying, ESP and astrology. Good, I thought, that’s where he belongs.

Well, not so fast. It seems the quack is back. Wakefield’s ‘huge news’ is that he is now a documentary film director, and that his new film Vaxxed: From Cover-up to Catastrophe will premiere at the prestigious Tribeca Film Festival this April. 

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, Tribeca Film Festival, I am interested in your choice to screen Vaxxed and what it means for documentaries.”

READ MORE: Filmmaker Penny Lane on Crowdfunding ‘Nuts!:’ ‘Doing a Kickstarter is a Full-Time Job’

She goes on to write: “issues around truth and ethics in documentary can get thorny. But this one should have been easy. The anti-vaccination hoax has been completely discredited by now. This film is not some sort of disinterested investigation into the ‘vaccines cause autism’ hoax; this film is *directed by the person who perpetuated the hoax.* And this hoax isn’t cute, or fun, or thought-provoking. Very possibly, some people will walk away from your festival having been convinced, in part because of your good name and the excellence and integrity of your documentary programming, not to vaccinate their children. And very possibly people will die as a result.”

You can read the rest of Lane’s very thoughtful post on her Facebook page.

Festival co-founder Robert De Niro weighed in on Friday with an official statement, which reads: “Grace and I 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. 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.’ I am not personally endorsing the film, nor am I anti-vaccination; I am only providing the opportunity for a conversation around the issue.”

As of now, “Vaxxed” is still set to premiere on Sunday, April 24 at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Check out a clip from Lane’s “Our Nixon” below:

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Lord Roger Lowrey

Ok why is autism going off the scale. Booming same time as jabs are increasing. Mind you the brain deads on this site have obviously had all there jabs. And what’s your problem with people who haven’t. They will die you are safe. So what’s your problem if jabs work.

Lord Roger Lowrey

Why are you posting lies. Andrew Wakefield is not a quack , let the truth come out in this film


John, you misunderstood. The vaxxers that Anthony is referring to are those who believe in and/or endorse the film entitled … vaxxed.

Adolf Schmidt

It’s called population control for the illuminate, trust health care experts? not on my life. Robert De Niro was told by a higher arckey to stop or face you know America silence. There is a cure for Cancer also but these people that would speak out would be silenced due to money.


Dr Peter Fletcher, former Chief Scientific Officer UK Department of Health – “Clinical and scientific data is steadily accumulating that the live measles virus in MMR can cause brain, gut and immune system damage in a subset of vulnerable children. There are very powerful people in positions of great authority in Britain and elsewhere who have staked their reputations and careers on the safety of MMR and they are willing to do almost anything to protect themselves.”

Pam Smith

Very sad that this has been forced in some way to not be shown. Now there must be a higher up in charge of preventing this from being shown. Sad but not surprising. Just research CDC coverup with African American males. Once again, educate yourself.

Craig R. Lending

Sanity prevails. Thanks you, Mr. De Niro

cia parker

Dr. Wakefield and Di Nero are fighting for the lives of children. My baby reacted to the hep-B vaccine with vaccine encephalitis, screaming syndrome for four days and nights, and was later diagnosed with autism. Not everyone reacts to peanuts by dying. Is anyone going to deny that some unfortunate children (sensitized by the Hib vaccine) do? Vaccines are more deadly than they are protective. I guess it’s going to take an even greater number of famous people whose kids react to vaccines with autism before we make much headway. I’m glad and grateful that Di Niro had the courage and integrity to try.


Anthony is right.. vaccines have no scientific validity. They will be viewed by coming generations the way we now view trepanning.

Pam Smith

Thanks to Tribecca for showing this documentary. Clearly liberals are fine with freedom of speech and views unless it is different than their own. This is comical. The vaccine issue is not black and white.


Nina — Every other advance country on earth does a staggered vaccination schedule. The US is the only one that ramrods this junk into children. And there is no doubt that some children die or are seriously harmed by vaccines. So get your head out of your behind.


What a bunch of ninnies you all are. Half the docs Tribeca screens are total BS, but you libs are having a conniption over this one? Sad.


I never understand why people are considered crazy for thinking vaccinations may harm children. It could be similar to what chemo does to cancer patients, chemo helps destroy bad cells but it also destroys good cells too. I think the truth to the whole vaccination issue is somewhere in the middle. We will know in a few decades anyways.

Bernie Mooney

I will not attending any films this year. The inclusion of this so-called doc is abhorrent

Saira Graham-Lammens

What ever happened to freedom of speech? The right to make your own choices. These liberties are the real ones being addressed.

Nina Seavey

It’s unfortunate that the DeNiro’s have a child with autism. But there is a significant correlation of fathers’ advanced age at time of conception and autism and no correlation between vaccines and autism. Tribeca may as well screen a film supporting the existence of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.

For those of you (like Anthony) who have no recollection of the horrors of epidemic disease, watch "A Paralyzing Fear: The Story of Polio in America" and it will break your privileged view that has erroneously created vaccine phobia.


Why isn’t anyone talking about the fact that the cdc commited fraud?? It’s about time the public learns about it. Big banks did it, Wall Street did it resulting in the recession of 2008.


You clearly don’t understand the concept of free speech or a democracy.

Dana Ullman

This article has NO place in a democracy where free speech is important. In contrast, this author simply spews misinformation that is promulgated by Big Pharma and its shills. The vaccine issue is not as simple as Big Pharma shills want us to believe, and this documentary may surprise you. It is remarkable that people want to censor a movie before seeing it…how stupid is that?!


Thank you Tribeca for airing this documentary and not succumbing to fear tactics and pressure. Thank you, Dr. Wakefield, for sacrificing your career to expose a corrupt pharmaceutical industry and protect children. You are a hero to our family.


Vaccine injuries are real. So happy this documentary was created. It finally exposes the truth.

Warrior mama

Usually when there is this much fuss, fear and anger, to the point where people are trying to get this film pulled, it means there is sme truths many don’t want told. Interesting.


Let the naysayers see the film before they dismiss the information. Bravo to TriBeCa for showing it.

Pam Smith

If Dr. Wakefield such a "quack" then what’s the big deal, people won’t possibly believe this, unless there is something to hide. Can’t wait to see this documentary. Other great documentaries: "Bought", "The Greater Good", "Trace Amounts"thimerosal/aluminum adjuvants). These are all good viewing. Looking forward to this documentary.


Kudos to Tribeca for providing a forum for truth.

Maria Ortega

The more attention can be drawn to corrupt government agencies like the CDC, the better. The CDC should stop promoting toxic vaccines and bending over to please the almighty pharmaceutical industry and start protecting American’s health.


There are many of us whose children have been injured by vaccines and diagnosed as such by mainstream medical doctors. This petition would shut down one of the only ways we have of getting our stories out to the public. It has little to do with the director of the film. If the people complaining about the documentary don’t like him, they don’t have to watch the documentary.

We are not "anti-vaxxers."


We have valid criticisms of the current vaccine program, and we have the right to be heard. If we were criticizing how some car manufacturers hid evidence of stuck accelerators, and instead blamed the drivers (yes, this happened), we would not be called "anti-accelerator" or even "anti-car."

We have the right to be heard. And people have the right to go see the evidence for themselves.

toni bark

It’s unfortunate we have journalists who no longer do their own independent research but rather spew industry speak. As a past director of a busy pediatric emergency room, I have seen first hand how bad adverse events to vaccinations can be. The science is not only not settled, it is hidden, bought and omitted. The CDC whistleblowers voice needs to be heard. The CDC has been captured by the very industry it claims to help regulate and most doctors are blind to this fact. They refuse to connect the dots because they are part of the problem . If you don’t like the idea of the film, DON’T GO SEE IT. But for everyone else who has not seen the CDC documents or heard the tapes of the whistle blower, this documentary will blow you away. I fully understand why the usual entities are scared shtless, they should be as a house of cards my soon be falling.


There are children every day being injured from vaccines. Every single day a child is forever changed by a vaccine, and not for the better. Andrew did not ‘abuse disabled children’ you are referring to the fact that he took samples at a birthday party, he had verbal consent. Do you honestly believe that if vaccines caused children developmental harm that the government would admit it?

In flint the EPA falsified documents stating the water was safe. Lies. When BPA was under the microscope there were documents stating testing proved no effect on the reproductive system. Lies.

We’ve been lied to before. Fact.


Hopefully this will further illuminate the fact that film festivals are anything but a meritocracy. Programs are almost entirely political, in all senses of the word.

Natasha Stephenson

Look up VAERS and read a vaccine insert before you come after people who opt not to vaccinate. You might also want to see how much money has been awarded to families in "vaccine court" to compensate them for the damage caused by vaccines. Look up "hot lots" and also ask yourselves if vaccines are SO safe, why are mfgrs immune from prosecution for any injury caused?

Rumor Has It

The theory is DiCaprio is behind it. Wakefield was bragging about him being behind the project.


Wow. Tribeca is allowing a defrocked doctor who pimped fraudulent research to showcase a documentary that’s about the same subject he was reprimanded about? Then neglects mention it to potential viewers? And then says it doesn’t "judge"? Damn…

Pam F. Smith

It should be something for viewers to view and educate themselves. Pro all vaccination people just don’t want any info out. Vaccines linked to ADHD, asthma, and eczema as well as autism. Great read: "The Peanut Allergy Epidemic". Guess what may be contributing to the mass, never seen this much in history peanut allergy. Educate before you vaccinate!


Shocking that any major festival would give a forum to such a film from such a source. Shame on Tribeca for doing this!

Barbara Sumner

Bravo. Wakefield has been exonerated. Dr. Wakefield published another 19 papers on the vaccine-induced bowel disorder. All were peer reviewed, and none have been retracted. However, none of these 19 papers are ever discussed in the media. Numerous other studies also support Dr. Wakefield’s controversial 1998 findings.

John Boston

Anthony, thanks for demonstrating to us all just how laughingly stupid you are. Millions of people are vaccinated every year and yet vaccines are poison? That must be some pretty weak poison. Stick yo yogic flying. Critical thinking doesn’t suit you.


Tribeca says "We are a forum, not a judge." – So every submission is gets a spot? Because if not, then it sounds like you are doing some judging.

Anthony Migchels

The vaxxers are doomed. Everybody with a clue these days knows they are pure poison. More and more people with reputation are speaking out.


If this is the same doc that Katie Couric is associated with the word on the street is Tribeca accepted the film without even screening it. As someone who has worked years on a film and has gone through the unpleasant process of festival submissions, I find this an abhorrent revelation. Shame on you Tribeca and all the other festivals that pick from circulated festival programmer-generated "favorites" lists and celebrity-affiliated projects.

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