By: Nic White
A rural Victoria film festival planned to screen anti-vaccine documentary
Vaxxed claimed a link between MMR vaccine and autism
It was met with furious backlash from doctors and the public
The film was backed by actor Robert De Niro whose son Elliot is autistic
It was cut from the festival on Friday after days of angry opposition
An Australian film festival has come under fire over plans to screen a controversial anti-vaccination documentary.
The Castlemaine Local and International Film Festival in rural Victoria was due to host the Australian premiere of Vaxxed: From Cover Up to Catastrophe.
But it was met with furious backlash from doctors, politicians and the public who slammed it as harmful for linking the measles, mumps and rubella jab to autism.
It comes after the controversial film was dropped from Robert De Niro’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York in April.
The actor, whose 18-year-old son Elliot suffers from autism that he blames on the MMR vaccine, later regretted axing it and urged people to watch it.
‘There is a link and they are saying there isn’t and there are other things there… There’s more to this than meets the eye, believe me,’ he said at the time.
CLIFF was on Friday forced to cut Vaxxed from its slate of 12 films after days of angry opposition.
Creative director David Thrussell said organisers felt ‘personally and professionally threatened’ and in fear of theirs and the public’s safety.
‘It is a sad reflection on the state of Australian democracy that legitimate questions cannot be raised in a public forum without inciting a campaign of ill-informed and dishonest intimidation,’ he said.
‘What can’t be contained however is people’s desire to see the film, and given this controversy, that will eventually happen in much greater numbers.’
He alleged the festival’s website and its social media accounts, as well as those of the organisers, were hacked.
It comes after the controversial film, which links the measles, mumps and rubella jab to autism, was dropped from Robert De Niro’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York.
Vaxxed is doubly controversial because it is directed by Andrew Wakefield, who published the now-discredited 1998 study linking MMR to autism.
Mr Wakefield was struck off the UK medical register in 2010 after the claims were found to be ‘utterly false’ and that he had acted ‘dishonestly and irresponsibly’.
He produced the documentary, which argues the link was covered up by U.S. health officials, to clear his name and spread his claims despite being barred form practicing medicine.
Mr Wakefield even emailed CLIFF organisers thanking them for having the ‘courage and integrity’ to screen his film in the face of criticism from those who had not seen it and urging them to ‘stand firm’.
‘The facts portrayed in the movie are 100 per cent accurate and were provided by a senior scientist from the [U.S. Center for Disease Control] itself. It is not my opinion, nor is it my producers’ opinions; it is fact,’ he wrote.
He claimed there were never any threats of litigation despite accusing the CDC of fraud: ‘Why? Because they know it to be true.’
CLIFF’s plan to show the documentary were slammed by Australia’s top doctors, who said it could discourage immunisation and harm public health.
Mr Wakefield even emailed CLIFF organisers thanking them for having the ‘courage and integrity’ to screen his film. It was posted to the festival’s Facebook page.
The documentary was to be screened at Castlemaine's historic Theatre Royal
Australian Medical Association president Michael Gannon said ‘nothing good’ could come from screening the film and urged the government to ‘ban this rubbish’.
‘The carnage, the disability, the death that’s prevented by this [immunisation] program everyday is so important that this is one area where against my better instincts I would encourage censorship,’ he told Fairfax.
‘Every time we see a one or two per cent reduction in the rate of vaccination in our community we give the opportunity for preventable infectious diseases to take a hold.’
Victorian Health Minister Jill Hennessy inquired about her powers to ban the film, saying it was irresponsible to promote harmful messages.
‘We’ve got to keep challenging the anti-science myth pedalling that goes on around vaccination – and a film that goes out there to say “vaccinations aren’t safe” is really, really unhelpful,’ she said.
Only 81.9 per cent of one-year-olds in Castlemaine and 79.6 per cent in nearby Kyneton are vaccinated, well below the national target of 95 per cent.
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