By Phillipe Diaz
When the call came from the heads of the Tribeca Film Festival, specifically Jane Rosenthal and Paula Weinstein, to let my head of distribution, Rich Castro, and me know that they had decided to “de-select” our film Vaxxed: From Cover-up to Catastrophe, I didn’t want to believe it.
I couldn’t understand how it could even be possible—when the selection had been confirmed publicly by Tribeca co-founder Robert De Niro himself the day before.
Being the distributor of the film and having received all the paperwork confirming the selection, I was in total disbelief, as I had personally advised the filmmakers to submit the film to Tribeca.
The conversation became very heated when I asked the festival executives for the reasons. The answer I received was that they had “issues” with the content of the film. I said, “Fine—let us know what issues you are having and we will give you all the back-up documentation and set you up with the filmmakers so that you can get any clarification you need.” But I got no specific answers.
It was clear that the actual content of the film (a documentary by Andrew Wakefield about Dr. William Thompson, a senior scientist at Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who believes that crucial information was omitted in a 2004 report on the Measles-Mumps-Rubella [MMR] vaccine and its link to autism) was not the full cause of the festival’s change of heart. They had already indicated in a previous conversation that their sponsor had issues with the film—specifically, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. It became even more heated when I asked Rosenthal and Weinstein, both highly accomplished professionals, if they realized the responsibility they were assuming and the message it would send to the filmmaking world at large. They were effectively telling the festival’s sponsors that it was perfectly OK to censor a film they didn’t like. They were also telling filmmakers around the world that they should only make movies that corporate powers and sponsors alike will approve of, otherwise they will have little chance to ever have their movies seen. I told them they were setting a huge precedent, but it was clear that they could not have cared less.