A highly controversial documentary film is coming to Wichita this week for some special screenings, including one with the filmmaker in attendance for a Q&A session after the showing.
“Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe” will be shown Thursday through Sunday and Tuesday at the Murdock Theatre, 536 N. Broadway. Full disclosure: I have not seen the film. But it has sparked a roiling, intense debate among the scientific and autism community and on social media. Here’s a look at the film and its impact:
▪ The premise: The film, directed by British gastroenterologist Andrew Wakefield, alleges that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control destroyed data on their 2004 study that showed a link between the MMR (Measles-Mumps-Rubella) vaccine and autism.
In the film, CDC “whistleblower” William Thompson admits taking part in a “massive scientific fraud to conceal the truth about vaccines causing autism.”
▪ Wakefield’s background: CNN reported in 2011 that leading medical journal BMJ (formerly British Medical Journal) called a study that Wakefield had published linking autism to childhood vaccines “an elaborate fraud.”
The journal accused Wakefield of misrepresenting or altering the medical histories of all 12 of the patients whose cases formed the basis of his 1998 study.
CNN reported that Wakefield told “Anderson Cooper 360” that his work had been “grossly distorted” and that he was the target of “a ruthless, pragmatic attempt to crush any attempt to investigate valid vaccine safety concerns.”
CNN said that the Lancet, the prestigious medical journal that originally published the research, retracted Wakefield’s paper.
In May 2010, Wakefield was stripped of his medical license.
▪ Then why make the film? Wakefield’s director statement on the film’s website says “For the last 20 years I have had to watch the suffering of those affected by autism as the problem multiplies year on year. What started with hope for a new understanding, new and effective treatments, and even prevention, turned to despair as special interests exploited their influence over the media to crush the science and the scientists.
“And then, two decades and a million damaged children later, one man, Dr. William Thompson – a CDC insider – decided to tell the truth and the embers of that early hope glow once more.”
▪ The controversy: “Vaxxed” first made waves earlier this year at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.
It was announced as an official selection of the festival, and defended by Tribeca co-founder Robert De Niro, saying in a statement posted on the Tribeca Facebook page that “Grace and I have a child with autism,” referring to his wife, Grace Hightower De Niro, “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.”
The Guardian reported that within half an hour of De Niro’s posting, “a well-oiled network of scientists, autism experts, vaccine advocacy groups, film-makers and sponsors cranked into gear to oppose it.”
Days later, the film was withdrawn from the festival program, with festival officials citing “sponsors’ interests” as a contributing factor in the decision, according to the Los Angeles Times.
De Niro followed the festival’s decision with another statement, saying that “My intent in screening this film was to provide an opportunity for conversation around an issue that is deeply personal to me and my family. But after reviewing it 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.”
Following that, a statement on the “Vaxxed” website said “We have just witnessed yet another example of the power of corporate interests censoring free speech, art, and truth.”
Some websites, such as www.naturalnews.com, said the decision to pull “Vaxxed” was as an act of censorship perpetuated by the “vaccine mafia.”
▪ More controvery: Much more backlash has erupted on both sides for and against the film since then. More information can be found at www.vaxxedthemovie.com.
“Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe”
What: Documentary film screenings
When: 7:15 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 11 a.m. Saturday, 4 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday and 6:20 p.m. Tuesday Filmmaker Andrew Wakefield will attend Tuesday’s screening and participate in a Q&A session after the film.
Where: Murdock Theatre, 536 N. Broadway
How much: $10