Ever since I mentioned on Tuesday that the prestigious Tribeca Film Festival had taken a massive dump on reality and science by selecting for screening Andrew Wakefield’s antivaccine propaganda “documentary,” Vaxxed: From Cover-up to Catastrophe, dedicated to the so-called “CDC whistleblower,” the topic has taken over, as topics sometimes tend to do here. In response to the mounting criticism for featuring a film by a scientific fraud clearly intended as an “I’ll show you all” moment to persuade viewers that Wakefield was right after all about his long discredited claim that the MMR vaccine can cause autism, a spokesperson for the film festival provided one of the most disingenuous excuses ever, even going so far as to post it on Twitter in response to the hammering that Tribeca is taking:

As I said, Tribeca is utterly clueless on this front.

But what’s done is done, as I’ve said elsewhere. However this Expelled!-level bit of pseudoscientific propaganda found its way onto the Tribeca Film Festival schedule, be it through a big name star putting in a good word to the organizers or an antivaccine-sympathetic and science-averse reviewer thinking that there really is a conspiracy on the part of the CDC to “hide” the evidence that vaccine cause autism (it is, after all, one of the organizing “principles” of the antivaccine movement), it’s there now. Never mind that this “conspiracy” is a whole lot of nothing.

What made me decide to turn this series of posts into a trilogy is that now the antivaccine movement has weighed in with a couple of tropes that long time readers will find quite familiar. No, I’m not referring to a couple of climate science denialists who have popped up in the comments of my last post, in which I compared antivaccine activists to climate change “skeptics,” who do so resent being compared to antivaccinationists or creationists, even though they are very similar in the forms their arguments take and the level of evidence mangling they engage in to deny that the climate is warming largely due to human activity. First, I’m referring to tone trolls. We have one right now, who is oh so outraged that I’m not a lot more polite and “respectful” to the antivaccine fringe in general and Andrew Wakefield in particular. Such is life. If you haven’t figured out that the title of this blog is, at least to some extent, sarcastic, this probably isn’t the blog for you.

A more common antivaccine trope worth addressing is this one, featured this morning on the antivaccine crank blog Age of Autism entitled Media Lockstep Crackdown on Any Vaccine Safety (Danger) Conversation Continues at Salon. It’s rather hilarious, given that it comes from the AoA “Media Editor” Anne Dachel, a woman who is best known for sending her antivaccine flying monkeys to throw feces into the discussion thread after any article critical of antivaccine pseudoscience or supportive of vaccines. Basically, she starts with an image from the National Coalition Against Censorship outlining the history of film censorship in the United States. Mary Elizabeth Williams’ article on Salon.com entitled Anti-vaxxer’s Tribeca triumph: Discredited doctor’s documentary about “the long-debated link between autism and vaccines” doesn’t belong in respected festival. (What’s to argue with?)

In any case, Dachel’s post begins:

And now another installment of the “NO NO YOU CAN’T TALK ABOUT VACCINES AS ANYTHING OTHER THAN LIFE SAVING FAIRY WATER” files…. Salon attacks a prestigious film festival for daring to include a film about vaccines. The censorship calls in the media toward the vaccine injured and their families and those who dare speak out is nothing short of North Korean in its approach. But Americans are wising up. Visit the National Coalition Against Censorship to learn more about the history of censorship in America. They need to do some updating…

Let me spell it out one more time for Ms. Dachel:

Criticism ≠ “censorship”

Let me also spell it out for her again:

Freedom of speech ≠ freedom from criticism

I hate this gambit, because it is so clueless and/or dishonest.

Let’s take a look at what’s going on here. The Tribeca Film Festival, for whatever reason, has made a huge mistake, choosing what even the trailer reveals to be a dishonest film that manipulates quotes from its subject, William Thompson, promoting a dangerous pseudoscientific idea. It’s a private corporation; so it has the right to choose to screen any film its organizers want to screen. It can use any criteria and process that its organizers deem appropriate. It could, if it so desired, take 3″ x 5″ cards with the name of each film entered into a big bowl and draw them at random or just have one of its founders, like Robert De Niro, pick whatever he wanted the festival to show if that’s what it wanted to do. There’s nothing any of us can do about that directly, particularly those of us not involved in the process. Those of us on the pro-science side are also quite cognizant that in any film festival screening hundreds of films selected from thousands of submissions, there will be occasional—or even not-so-occasional—pieces of cinematic crap that slip through. This, however, “smells” different than the run-of-the-mill bad movie that sometimes gets selected for film festivals, even ones as prestigious as Tribeca or Sundance.

What we can and should do is to criticize and question the selection. We also have every right to start asking organizers of the Tribeca Film Festival how such a piece of scientific and film dreck could have been selected. That is exactly what I’ve done. So have Mary Elizabeth Williams, Laura June, Anna Merlan, Matt Carey, Brownwen Dickey, and Michael Hiltzik, for example. None of them have called for “censorship.” The worst that’s been called for are (1) an accounting by the organizers of the festival for how this film was selected and (2) for skeptics to attend the screening, even though it would end up putting money in the Tribeca Film Festival’s and Andrew Wakefield’s pocket, in order to draw attention to the lies in the film and, quite frankly, to make Andy and his fellow filmmakers sweat with some uncomfortable—but polite!—questions that poke holes in the claims made in the film.

Here’s something that isn’t “censorship” either, and that’s looking into connections of the Vaxxed filmmakers and subjects and means by which Wakefield’s film could have slithered into Tribeca. I sincerely hope that some intrepid reporters, like Anna Merlan or Bronwen Dickey, are looking into potential celebrity connections, celebrities who have a connection with Andrew Wakefield or others involved in this film. After all, one of the Tribeca Film Festival founders is Robert De Niro, who has a special needs child, and Wakefield claimed in a talk that Leonardo DiCaprio was backing his film, before later denying that he had ever said any such thing. Given this information, it’s entirely reasonable to wonder if one of these two had something to do with getting Vaxxed selected.

Of course, it’s not just about Wakefield. It’s also reasonable to wonder if others associated with Vaxxed might have celebrity connections that could have gotten the movie into Tribeca. One of these is Del Bigtree, who is a producer and could well know some antivaccine celebrities with sufficient stature or connections to get a film in. Interestingly, Tribeca has finally published the bios of all the principals involved in Vaxxed. There another possibility, too, an unexpected surprise. I’m referring to Sharyl Attkisson, former CBS correspondent and die-hard antivaccine loon, as I’ve documented many times going back to 2007. Her connection to Wakefield dates back at least as far as her utterly dishonest reporting of the murder of an autistic teen named Alex Spourdalakis. She’s still at it. Yet another possibility is Philippe Diaz, who apparently was a big deal in the world of documentary film making, although his IMDB entry doesn’t show any films more recent than 2009.

Freedom of speech means that Andrew Wakefield and anyone he’s conned “persuaded” into believing his pseudoscience can make whatever sort of propaganda film they want, provided they can find the resources to do so. It also means that the Tribeca Film Festival can screen that same pseudoscientific antivaccine (but I repeat myself) propaganda film if its organizers so desire. However, it also means that journalists and, yes, bloggers can criticize Tribeca for its decision, refute Andrew Wakefield’s long history of promoting antivaccine misinformation about the MMR, and pre-emptively demolish the conspiracy theory at the heart of Vaxxed. That’s not “censorship.” It’s just more speech.

Cranks like Anne Dachel and Andrew Wakefield never seem to understand that.

Comments

  1. #1 Julian Frost
    Gauteng East Rand
    March 24, 2016

    Once again, I find this extremely appropriate.
    http://xkcd.com/1357/

  2. #2 Amethyst
    The Crystal Gem
    March 24, 2016

    *shudder* Anyone else getting flashbacks of a certain PHD thesis and “academic freedom” when they read this?

    Why do people seemingly have such a hard time grasping the idea that science is not interested in “the other side” – it is merely interested in what the evidence says, I wonder…?

  3. #3 Chris Hickie
    March 24, 2016

    That’s rich for Dachel to scream “CENSORSHIP” when AoA is one of the most heavily censored anti-vaccine web sites in the US.

  4. #4 Denice Walter
    March 24, 2016

    re Robert De Niro:
    the article linked to the other day said that his teenaged son was bipolar ( they were discussing the film ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ which involved a character with bipolar; the director/ writer’s son also experiences a mental condition)

  5. #5 MI Dawn
    March 24, 2016

    Given the film has fraudulently combined comments made by William Thompson to make them appear like he said it as one comment, can we make sure that is pointed out – along with all the data that shows there is NO #CDCWhistleblower story as all the data has been made public?

  6. #6 Eric Lund
    March 24, 2016

    Media Lockstep Crackdown on Any Vaccine Safety (Danger) Conversation Continues at Salon.

    Irony alert: It was Salon that published RFK Jr.’s anti-vax diatribe back in 2005. It seems that Mary Elizabeth Williams, at least, is capable of learning.

    In yesterday’s comments sadmar posted what he claimed is a list of panelists who will be leading the alleged discussion of the movie after its screening. If true, that will be a highly one-sided discussion, as everyone on that list is at least one of (A) a well-known anti-vax figure or (B) explicitly connected to the film. Wakefield obviously checks both boxes.

  7. #7 DarkScholar82
    Philadelphia
    March 24, 2016

    Like it or not, people don’t like being told what films should be shown or what they can see. I think anti-vax is BS, but I have no problem with someone showing an anti-vax film. We live in a free society where ideas far more dangerous than anti-vaccination are given free reign. Just look at the candidacy of Donald Trump…

  8. #8 Chet Morrison
    Lancaster PA
    March 24, 2016

    And of course, those of us with discerning taste in cinema are free to boycott this particular iteration of Tribeca FF on the grounds of poor film selection and unwillingness to support this particular atrocity against documentary filmmaking.

  9. #9 Science Mom
    http://justthevax.blogspot.com/
    March 24, 2016

    I don’t think it should be censored either. I do believe Tribeca has the responsibility to make sure the audience isn’t stacked with Wakefraud apologists. But I’m not confident on that front since Wakefraud has a way of surrounding himself with a sympathetic fawning audience. That said, yeah the AVers have to get over themselves and deal with the justifiable criticism of this craptacular “doco”.

  10. #10 Sebastian L. Jackson Âû
    Lynchburg, Virginia
    March 24, 2016

    @ Eric Lund #6: Salon eventually publicly retracted the Kennedy article. Rolling Stone did not.

  11. #11 Dorit Reiss
    March 24, 2016

    I always read these kinds of claims of censorship as attempts to chill speech – which is not censorship, something a private actor cannot do, but is certainly not promoting free exchange of views. That makes these claims (which are also themselves an exercise of freedom of speech) not just wrong but hypocritical.

  12. #12 Beth
    March 24, 2016

    With all due respect as I can only come over here about once a week and was shocked to see these posts re: Tribeca..

    #7 I disagree re: but I have no problem with someone showing an anti-vax film.

    This film, as far as I know, since it’s in the documentary category, is being billed as a digger and light-shiner of the truth. Since all the information that is needed to fact-check this film and now we know that they did splicing of a critical person’s dialogue to lie and mislead, after this exposure by Orac, et. al., I don’t know how the folk at TFF cannot feel pressured to do some thorough due diligence. Three weeks is more than enough time. People’s lives and secondarily, their reputation is at stake. There are film-makers with integrity, with important things to say that deserve the exposure that TFF gives them.

  13. #13 Denice Walter
    March 24, 2016

    @ Science Mom:

    Agreed.
    They could include someone who isn’t either a partisan or a member of their film team

  14. #14 MikeMa
    March 24, 2016

    They could include a Wakefield biography before and after each showing with the bits about fraud and being struck off.

  15. #15 Chris
    March 24, 2016

    Maybe Wakefield is just trying to create a new genre of film. I tried searching for a pseudoscience fiction fantasy documentary but couldn’t find it. Netflix may have to rewrite their algorithms; I can maybe see Abe Lincoln Vampire Hunter showing up in the list of “You May Also Like” section after watching this.

  16. #16 sadmar
    March 24, 2016

    Comment threads here and elsewhere contained numerous demands for Tribeca to cancel the screening on the basis of anti-vax being scientifically illegitimate. That may not fit a narrow definition of censorship, but it’s close enough. The rationale most often presented – showing the film will have dire social consequences – is the typical justification for ‘censorship’ campaigns.

    I have been in a debate with other commenters on the subject of whether it is more appropriate to criticize the film, or to attack the festival for showing the film. If the argument is that, “You should withdraw this film because itself pseudo-sciene” = criticism ≠ censorship, we’re just getting cute with word definitions. ( ‘Censorship’ here is an action, so no mere opinion can be actual censorship.) It’s an implicit call for an action that’s enough like censorship that people generally consider it such.

    It’s tricky here in that are many issues involved in screening ‘Vaxxed’ that get conflated. Most importantly, the outright falsehoods and fabrications regarding events that happened in the world that characterize Wakefield’s videos are of a different order than a scientifically invalidated claim, and calls for Vaxxed to be withdrawn from Tribeca on that basis do not fall into what we would generally consider ‘censorship’.

    I want to be clear that I have only minor quibbles with Orac here, and I support the position taken in the OP above. It’s not surprising that advocates who have long been fighting anti-vax poison would have an extreme reaction to the Tribeca announcement – which is absolutely full of WTF. We should always grant people the chance to think about things for a bit, modify and clarify a position before leveling any sort of judgement of them. Of course, we can criticize a line of thinking, offer rationales for a different perspective – there’s a process here, an actual conversation as opposed to what the ‘Vaxxed’ aftertalk appears to be.

    It’s absolutely true that targets of mere critique will often whine ‘censorship!’ and ‘bullying!’ and all manner of victim posturing. To counter this, I suggest being a bit more careful and specific in initial critiques. That is, make it clear either that you are NOT calling for something to be pulled, or that the grounds for such a call are not about repressing a perspective. Again, it’s a fine line. “I am outraged that the TFF chose to screen an anti-vax film’ = fine. “The TFF should not have given Wakefield a platform” = a bit shaky, but OK. “The TFF should not show ant-vax crapola” = no, as it calls for action.

    On the other hand, encouraging change is a different matter than calling for action, especially when the rationale more clearly merits a re-thinking. “I would hope the programmers consider the damage to public health done by anti-vax ideology, and reconsider their choice to screen ‘Vaxxed'” = a bit shaky, but OK. “I would hope the programmers consider the fabrications and blatant lies in the trailer for Vaxxed grounds for reversing their choice to screen ‘Vaxxed’ = better.

    These are issues of general principle, and only define certain boundaries for how we determine the best strategy for dealing with the ‘Vaxxed’ screening. My argument is that the specifics of ‘Vaxxed’, Wakefield and the TFF are such that it would actually be a good thing if the screening goes forward. We have not seen ‘Vaxxed’ of course, but every indication is that it’s a very bad film, and will be ineffective as propaganda directed at a general audience who do not yet have a firm opinion on vaccine safety or policy. A festival screening will only expose the film to a very small audience, and in this case that will include critical journalists who are likely to call attention to the falsifications and science-denial to a much wider audience that would be unaware of them otherwise.

  17. #17 Matt Carey
    March 24, 2016

    Attkisson has been in the Wakefield camp since before 2008. Well before the Who Killed Alex Spourdalakis disaster of a film project.

    Recall that when the Hornig MMR study came out, Attkisson used her CBS blog to post Wakefield’s press releases. That sticks in my mind as one of the laziest bits of journalism. That was 2008.

    She also did a live interview, including on his preliminary monkey studies. Funny how she hasn’t done a follow-up on the story now that the final studies are published. She gave full network air time to the preliminary–and wrong–results but nothing for the full study.

    Funny how journalists who call themselves brave are such cowards.

  18. #18 Orac
    March 24, 2016

    D’oh! I forgot about those incidents, and I even blogged about one of them!

    http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2009/10/08/complain-to-cbs-cbs-resident-anti-vaccin/

    Maybe it’s just because the Alex Spourdalakis story was her very lowest point.

  19. #19 Matt Carey
    March 24, 2016

    Claiming censorship is a way to say “we are being trodden on by the machine”

    It gives Rachel a way to avoid facing and answering the criticisms.

  20. #20 Matt Carey
    March 24, 2016

    Dachel not Rachel

  21. #21 Matt Carey
    March 24, 2016

    Yeah, her CBS infomercial for Wakefield’s treatment of Alex Spourdalakis was embarrassingly bad.

    I don’t follow her career, but if that isn’t the low point of her career…

    The other stuff is easily forgotten. Who really needs to devote memory space to every hack moment of a hack journalist?

  22. #22 TroubleMaker
    March 24, 2016

    Just to add to some of sadmar’s recent comments. My spouse is a filmmaker so I’ve attended many film festivals including Tribeca. A large festival like this one screens many, many films. This year’s TFF film guide has 31 pages. Many of these films, particularly a relatively obscure documentary like this, will only draw a very sparse audience. Aside from the controversy that this is generating, I wouldn’t be surprised if this ends up being a non-event with 20-some-odd people in attendance.

    Of course, the primary purpose of film festivals is for filmmakers to shop their work to distributors for theatric or TV release. The main risk here is not the TFF screening per se, but that the film gets picked up for wider release.

  23. #23 TroubleMaker
    March 24, 2016

    BTW, this film gets only a single screening at 2pm on the last day of the festival.

  24. #24 Science Mom
    http://justthevax.blogspot.com/
    March 24, 2016

    Of course, the primary purpose of film festivals is for filmmakers to shop their work to distributors for theatric or TV release. The main risk here is not the TFF screening per se, but that the film gets picked up for wider release.

    That being the case, Vaxxed is destined to go straight to video and shown at the dodgy autism parent “conferences”.

  25. #25 Annie
    March 24, 2016

    Someone should start a gofundme to get Brian Deer to the screening 😉

  26. #26 TroubleMaker
    March 24, 2016

    @24: “That being the case, Vaxxed is destined to go straight to video and shown at the dodgy autism parent “conferences”.”

    Hard to say. Distro sales are entirely a business decision, not necessarily based on any artistic or factual merit. The controversial nature of the subject might be enough to get some kind of deal done. Hard to imagine a full-fledged theatric release, but I could see this showing up on Netflix or a lesser streaming service.

  27. #27 Chris
    March 24, 2016

    Add this to the list of publications that are criticizing the organizers of the film festival:
    http://www.businessinsider.com/tribeca-film-festival-premiers-andrew-wakefield-documentary-2015-2

    One critic is documentary maker Penny Lane who is finishing a film about the goat testicle quack. I want to see that film.

  28. #28 TroubleMaker
    March 24, 2016

    @27: A minor quibble:

    “You wouldn’t know it from looking at Tribeca’s website, however. Here’s how they describe the film, called “Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe””

    The film description and Wakefield bio on the TFF site are most certainly not provided by the festival, but pasted directly from Wakefield and his producers themselves.

  29. #29 Denice Walter
    March 24, 2016

    @ TroubleMaker:

    I thought that that Wakefield bio left out a few important things.

  30. #30 a-non
    March 24, 2016

    @Dorit Reiss #11

    Like so many quacks, charlatans and conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxers prefer to live in an echo chamber. As we’ve seen time and time again, when they step outside that echo chamber into the wider world, they don’t react very well.

  31. #31 a-non
    March 24, 2016

    To follow up on my post above, while it’s not an absolute, I would be surprised if there wasn’t a correlation between “level of moderation” and “level of quackery/fear mongering/conspiracy theory” a blog or website forum has.

  32. #32 An_Actual_Skeptic
    March 24, 2016

    re: “in which I compared antivaccine activists to climate change “skeptics,” who do so resent being compared to antivaccinationists or creationists, even though they are very similar in the forms their arguments take ”

    You have this backwards, you are the one that behaves like anti-science quacks who mindlessly accept what others say without question. Even Michael Mann, high profie climate alarmist, admitted in a paper from Nature this year that:

    http://www.nature.com/articles/nclimate2938.epdf?referrer_access_token=EdjjubGeQDPGIx5vL1QW6dRgN0jAjWel9jnR3ZoTv0OqExA1EwYluYLwiaayT9ble9FcNagQ1ss5L1V0KiWd-xzbFQjp8p3e-nUsgU7jNuUykRRWZpgMltUfROWf3xSKeGSSY7TvMiWdaeBCmNzlbQKCodQ3ivWje8eZYAs8Dr1uu8L-i3CHt8f_jYiil5eU0vkTP9FQoSKFHHetLPsMBatVkmispiD6AK7RHliZN_I%3D&tracking_referrer=www.nature.com
    “Making Sense of the Early 2000s warming slowdown
    … Michael E. Mann …
    In summary, climate models did not (on average) reproduce the observed temperature trend over the early twenty-first century, in spite of the continued increase in anthropogenic forcing…

    …The observed rate of global surface warming since the turn of this century has been considerably less than the average simulated rate. […] Note also that the most recent observed 15-year trend is lower than the majority of simulated trends;[…] The initial focus of post AR5 slowdown resarch was to explain why observed and modelled temperatures differ in the early twenty-first century. ”

    A co-author of the paper notes:
    http://www.climate-lab-book.ac.uk/2016/making-sense/
    ” However, the recent observations are all continuously outside the ±1σ spread of the simulations for a lengthy period, which is obviously unusual. It is also not just global temperatures that have been unusual – the tropical Pacific sea surface temperatures &winds have also behaved well outside the simulated range.”

    More mismatch:

    https://judithcurry.com/2015/12/17/climate-models-versus-climate-reality/
    “Climate models versus climate reality

    Perhaps the most frank example of the growing disconnection between forecast and observed climate change was presented by University of Alabama’s John Christy to the Senate Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives on December 8.”

    In the world of real sciences like physics when theory predictions don’t match reality, people don’t claim the science is settled, yet some climate true believers have been claiming it for 25 years when there was far less information available. There have been *hundreds* of journal papers the last few years that question aspects of AGW theory, and hundreds more by those that support the AGW consensus in theory but who are critiquing aspects of how the models function now and those differences could eventually lead those models to change their conclusions, since contrary to the rants of the poorly informed, the science is very much a work in progress. Yes, the climate folks will try to downplay the mismatch between reality and models, engaging in special pleading as to why they shouldn’t be held to the same standards of proof as say particle physics where their work would have been laughed at rather than published with their level of errors. Just like quack medical types try to pretend it doesn’t matter if their data matches reality well.

    Your mindless dismissal of those who dare to be skeptical of the science, even though I doubt you’ve looked at it in detail (have you read an IPCC science document in whole? I have) is like quacks who dismiss anyone who dares to question their beliefs that are the result of people telling them what to believe. The climate issue is far more complicated than those who don’t know much about computers and physics realize, and its tiresome to hear those who haven’t actually looked into the topic pretend the field is as credible as say the science on vaccines or GMOs. Anyone who believes that is indicating they haven’t the slightest understanding of the level of evidence, the complexity of the issue, and difficulty in validating such theories against reality.

  33. #33 Matt Carey
    March 24, 2016

    Dachel’s piece boils down to:

    “Please let this be controversial and get publicity!”

    Ignore that the criticism is directed at Tribeca. It’s about Wakefield! No one wants to hear the truth!

    Tibeca is being gutless. They claim that this film just dropped in their program while no one was looking. Like Tribeca is a pick up game sort of film festival.

    They chose it. At least have the guts to say, “yep, we chose it” And “Yes, our name is on this film now”. Because it’s true.

    But, at least we can rest easy. The entire Wakefield support team has shown up in the comments. Even John Scudamore is there.

    Who is John Scudamore, some may ask? He’s the guy behind Whale.to. Complete with Satanic Ley Lines burning his bum and levitating dolphins.

    And–let’s not forget–he hosts the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. That’s a bit of anti Semitic fraud. With luck, John will be posting at Tribeca for a long time.

  34. #34 sadmar
    March 24, 2016

    sadmar posted what he claimed is a list of panelists who will be leading the alleged discussion of the movie after its screening. If true, that will be a highly one-sided discussion

    WTF, Eric? “Claimed… If true…”? I may offer hypotheses here sometimes that turn out to be wrong, or mistake details of something past that’s fuzzy in my memory, but I do not make false claims in reports of what I have just read. Your language is a wholly unwarranted character attack. Based on my impressions of your commenting history, I would have thought you were above that kind of crap.
    _________

    Regarding the panel: We don’t know if anyone will be leading a discussion between the panel and members of the audience. The ‘conversation’ could be entirely within the people on the dais. This is probably the mode at film festivals, rather than the exception, where multiple people are on the stage. It’s not specific to documentaries, but rather the way they approach pretty much everything.

    The way these usually go: a moderator representing the festival introduces everybody, and then poses some general question about the work, say ‘why did you make this film?’ Then everyone on the panel gets a turn to address that question for a bit. Then the moderator asks another general question, say ‘tell us abut the difficulties you faced in creating the film’, and everyone on the panel again gets a turn to monologue for a bit.

    This goes on until maybe 5 minutes before the scheduled end of the session, at which pint the moderator says, ‘We have time for a few questions…’ This framing limits what anyone in the audience can say as ‘the makers are here as authorities who hold knowledge of the film, and you may ask a question to address a fact we haven’t covered’. So the audience doesn’t get to express opinions, or engage in anything resembling a debate with the panelists.

    It’s not always that way, and I don’t know how they typically do aftertalks at the TFF. I merely want to note that an absence of the sort of exchange any of us would want after ‘Vaxxed’ is hardly deviant practice for film festivals. We can argue that they should do it differently in this case, but we can’t accuse them of giving Wakefield some special sort of pass. What would be remarkable and condemnable conduct is the festival treating ‘Vaxxed’ differently from other films, or treating folks who want to see it differently from one another, depending on their assumed perspective – e.g. trying to keep critics or journalists from attending, removing non-interruptive protesters, or if they DO allow questions/comments from the audience, letting Andy only call on ‘fawning sycophants’ he knows in the audience.
    _________

    The boilerplate disclaimer: “Tribeca is about dialogue & conversation.” is mildly disingenuous in that it doesn’t mean “dialogue & conversation” between “opposing viewpoints” in the theater at any given screening, though a reasonable reader not familiar with festivals might infer otherwise. Rather, each screening is conceived as contributing to some broader cultural dialogue outside the festival site. To the extent that the TFF ‘presents opposing viewpoints without judgement or endorsement’ that refers to the programming as a whole, over time. E.g., they might say, ‘Well, we had a film very critical of “pseudo-science” a couple years ago.’ Actually, “opposing viewpoints” can mean, ‘we’re presenting a viewpoint that opposes common perspectives’. That is, the programmers don’t have a obligation to ‘present both sides’ if the side they’re not presenting already has a very big megaphone. For example, if I programmed “The Enemies of Reason”, I would feel no compunction to also schedule a film promoting religious faith, because there are plenty of churches in town, and several evangelical cable networks on TV.

    Again, there’s still a BS factor in ‘present without judgement’ in that selection reflects a decision that the work does make a worthy contribution to some significant exterior dialogue. This is exactly the judgement skeptics are questioning, of course.

    However, contrary to what many commenters seem to assume, mere selection for a festival screening is not necessarily any sort of institutional endorsement of a film as being either ‘true’ or ‘good’, much less ‘correct in opinion’. In general, a significant level of endorsement only attaches to films that are given some sort of award. We would expect an award-winning documentary to be both ‘good’ and at least ‘not false’. However, ‘Vaxxed’ has not been entered into a competitive category, and should be ineligible for any kind of laurels.

    Since selection often, but not always, correlates to some evaluation of at least minimal filmmaking merit, observers at a distance from the festival world may take selection as some sort of praise, and filmmakers in every category will attempt to portray it as such, in attempts to draw audiences. The festivals have only a limited responsibility, but more importantly only a limited ability to correct public misconceptions about what they do.

  35. #35 TroubleMaker
    March 24, 2016

    @32: “They chose it. At least have the guts to say, “yep, we chose it” And “Yes, our name is on this film now”. Because it’s true.”

    Oh, I’m willing to bet that there are some TFF board members who are pretty pissed off about this.

  36. #36 sadmar
    March 24, 2016

    the primary purpose of film festivals is for filmmakers to shop their work to distributors for theatric or TV release

    Only some festivals. Tribeca’s a distro marketplace, but not only that. Whatever, ‘Vaxxed’ already has a distributor and a distribution plan. The distributor is Philippe Diaz’s Cinema Libre Studio. It’s primary distribution means is low-cost pay-per-view on Vimeo. Per the vaxxedthemovie.com webpage:

    After the festival premiere, it is our intention that this film will screen in theatres across the US (before being available to purchase on DVD, digitally or in other countries) and we will need your help!

    I take that to mean that, like previous anti-vax films, theatrical exhibition will only occur in locales where a ‘grassroots’ organizing campaign can guarantee the sale of a certain number of tickets for a single showing. That is, if they can’t sell enough tickets, the film doesn’t show. I can’t imagine any theater would book this for a conventional run, in which they pay fees up front, screen it several times a day regardless of who shows up, and hope the receipts for the run yield a profit over the rental and overhead.

  37. #37 TroubleMaker
    March 24, 2016

    @33: “The ‘conversation’ could be entirely within the people on the dais. This is probably the mode at film festivals, rather than the exception, where multiple people are on the stage. It’s not specific to documentaries, but rather the way they approach pretty much everything.”

    Not sure I entirely agree with this. Such “conversations” and panel discussions are almost always followed by some kind of audience Q&A, albeit sometimes brief.

  38. #38 Matt Carey
    March 24, 2016

    Troublemaker–

    can we make anything out of the fact that the awards screenings start before VAXXED is shown?

  39. #39 Matt Carey
    March 24, 2016

    If I have this right, here’s part of the final Sunday schedule.

    Wakefield’s movie airs Sun 4/24 2pm

    Best new documentary director award screening is 4/24 at 2:45pm

    Audience Award, first place is 4/24 at 3:45pm

    Audience Award, second place is 4/24 at 1:30pm

    Best documentary 4/24 at 12:00 pm

    Looks like the awards are decided before his film even screens.

  40. #40 TroubleMaker
    March 24, 2016

    @37:

    Well, it’s not in the Documentary Competition so it’s not eligible for any awards if that’s what you mean. It looks like a pretty shitty schedule slot too– it screens right in the middle of the award screenings at a theater that’s not exactly nearby the awards, and on getaway day, a Sun.

    I mean, if someone on this particular selection committee was trying to do Wakefield a favor, they seem to be doing the absolute minimum.

  41. #41 TroubleMaker
    March 24, 2016

    @37:

    Well, it’s not in the Documentary Competition so it’s not eligible for any awards if that’s what you mean. It looks like a pretty lame schedule slot too– it screens right in the middle of the award screenings at a theater that’s not exactly nearby the awards, and on getaway day, a Sun.

    I mean, if someone on this particular selection committee was trying to do Wakefield a favor, they seem to be doing the absolute minimum.

  42. #42 Chris Preston
    Australia
    March 24, 2016

    I thought that that Wakefield bio left out a few important things.

    They should have borrowed the one from California Jam.

  43. #43 sadmar
    March 24, 2016

    @Troublemaker: I bet the board members aren’t half as the staff who have to handle this hot potato.

    As I wrote yesterday (#14), the film community knows how to handle this crap, and Penny Lane’s FB post is perfect:
    1. Hitting the film for things that matter to documentary makers
    2. Scourging the festival in terms that will damage its reputation and credibility with communities it needs to work with.
    3. Critiques the choice, without suggesting it should be reversed and the screening cancelled.

    I noted that Pat Aufderheide posted “Thank you! Yes.” under Penny’s OP. Pat is a VIP in the documentary community, director of The Center For Social Media at American University, and a tireless activist working against real-world restrictions against free expression (copyright law, mainly). The ‘Vaxxed’ trailer, like Wakefields earlier YouTube videos, fabricates statements from William Thompson by splicing bits of different sentences together, and introducing them with VO indicating they reference something else altogether than their original context. If any organization with the juice of the TFF legitimates that as ‘documentary’, that jeopardizes Prof. Aufderheide’s project to win better conditions for making and screening good social interest documentaries. It’s a very positive sign that she’s aware of what’s going on here.

  44. #44 sadmar
    March 24, 2016

    “half as pissed off” forgot the imortant part…

  45. #45 palindrom
    March 24, 2016

    @32 — High dudgeon!

    Of course climate is complicated, but the caricature you draw of the situation is unrecognizable and informed primarily by those who have a deep ideological or financial interest in muddying the waters. Go read Barry Bickmore for a while. He’s a nice conservative Republican from Utah. You can trust him.

  46. #46 sadmar
    March 25, 2016

    Um, in case anyone wants to put some heat on the TFF for screening ‘Vaxxed’: the thing to do is get as many folks as possible to write letters of complaint to the festival sponsors, listed here: https://tribecafilm.com/sponsor-block

    Do NOT suggest the screening should be canceled. The sponsors don’t care, and being told what to do gets their backs up. Tell them the TFF know has a serious black-eye, and that the dirt is rubbing off on them for enabling not just an enemy of science, but a mendacious con-artist. Tell the corporations they could lose business over this, etc., and that they should get right with Science by making a public statement of regret.

    I also note that one of the ‘Signature Sponsors’ is the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, which, according to it’s website is devoted primarily to funding STEM education and research. I doubt they’d be happy to have their name connected to Andrew Wakefield…

  47. #47 Amethyst
    The Crystal Gem
    March 25, 2016

    The movie should be pulled simply and purely on the fact that it is based on disproven claims by a medical fraudster, and as Matt Carey pointed out repeatedly on his blog, have in just the short trailer been found guilty of splicing together sound bites from Thompson to make him say things he did not.

    Surely there some kind of standards any film claiming to be a documentary has to meet!

  48. #48 Amethyst
    The Crystal Gem
    March 25, 2016

    I think I entered my email incorrectly, so here is my vanished comment again:

    The movie should be pulled simply and purely on the fact that it is based on disproven claims by a medical fraudster, and as Matt Carey pointed out repeatedly on his blog, have in just the short trailer been found guilty of splicing together sound bites from Thompson to make him say things he did not.

    Surely there some kind of standards any film claiming to be a documentary has to meet!

  49. #49 Brian Deer
    March 25, 2016

    Amethyst:

    “Surely there some kind of standards any film claiming to be a documentary has to meet!”

    Exactly the point that I think may be getting lost in all this. Any kind of film or video making offers unique possibilities to mislead. Wakefield’s people have done it to me – fraudulently inter-cutting material to make me appear to be saying that a boy who’d had his colon chopped out didn’t have bowel disease.

    It’s easily done. In Britain, broadcasters have to adhere to statutory codes of practice to prevent it happening. In the US – and with any kind of independent film – it is only the integrity of the authors you have to rely on.

    Wakefield has no integrity. He lies like a duck quacks. I could sit you down and take you through scores of blatant -on-the-nose deceptions.

    But, the problem for this film festival is that he has the capacity to contaminate everyone around him. Filmmakers depend on their credibility and relationship of trust with the audience.

    Just as the medical establishment sought to cover up his scientific fraud, because it cast the structures and conventions of biomedical publishing in a bad light, so he can now do the same for independent documentary making.

    If can do this, and get his film shown, who else is lying? Why would anyone believe a documentary?

    His ability to contaminate is Tribeca’s big problem here. I really hope they are punished for it, so as to learn the lesson.

    Short of him introducing the film with words to the effect of “I’m a research cheat, got caught, but now’s my revenge”, the exercise is one of pure deception.

  50. #50 MikeMa
    March 25, 2016

    What Brian Deer (and others) have said.

    And regardless of where in the TFF schedule they put him, Wakefield’s film will have the “Screened at TFF” label and you can bet Wakers will use that to he hilt when promoting it. Shameful.

  51. #51 Dangerous Bacon
    March 25, 2016

    ” regardless of where in the TFF schedule they put him, Wakefield’s film will have the “Screened at TFF” label”

    More likely, “Screened at the prestigious Tribeca Film Festival”.

    Which is annoying, but on the other hand I’d bet 95% of the American public (at minimum) have never heard of the Tribeca Film Festival.

    This will likely amount to just another tiny antivax “victory” swamped by a vast ocean of defeat in the sectors of mainstream medicine, science and public opinion.

  52. #52 MikeMa
    March 25, 2016

    @DB
    Got to hope. I still see folks arguing that vaccines cause autism on a regular basis.

  53. #53 Stacy Herlihy
    United States
    March 25, 2016

    I will be there if anyone cares to meet up with me. Just for the opportunity to mock Fakefield in person.

  54. #54 Orac
    March 25, 2016

    The movie should be pulled simply and purely on the fact that it is based on disproven claims by a medical fraudster, and as Matt Carey pointed out repeatedly on his blog, have in just the short trailer been found guilty of splicing together sound bites from Thompson to make him say things he did not.

    Surely there some kind of standards any film claiming to be a documentary has to meet!

    I’m sure Wakefield’s isn’t the first documentary to air at a major film festival to have used such dishonest techniques.

  55. #55 Amethyst
    The Crystal Gem
    March 25, 2016

    Oh no doubt, no doubt. I guess hoping for any kind of standards these days is a pipe dream. However, I still feel that the best way to possibly change the minds of the festival folks would be to pointing out these inaccuracies and downright fraudulent behavior (the splicing of sound bites in the trailer is just the tip of the iceberg I reckon).

  56. #56 sadmar
    March 25, 2016

    Surely there some kind of standards any film claiming to be a documentary has to meet!
    There are, but they’re not simple tick-off check boxes of ‘this or that technique’. It all depends on context and purpose. So I could rephrase Orac’s suspicion as a assertion of fact: Vaxxed isn’t the first documentary to air at a major film festival to have used the techniques by which Wakefield creates his lies. The difference is that those films don’t use those methods to the same degree or ends, and wind up in ‘gray areas’ regarding ‘truth’, where Andy winds up with results that are false in every sense at every level.

    Failure to meet the standards doesn’t make a film “not-a-documentary” (there’s a broad misunderstanding of what that term means), but it makes it a very bad documentary, and one that does not deserve to be screened, except for the purpose of putting it’s badness on display, so audiences can see how bankrupt the ‘movements’ advancing these ideas actually are. It’s now pretty clear that this is not what Tribeca had in mind, though I think we can turn it into that.

    Anyway, yeah some sketchy stuff has indeed appeared at big festivals, but nothing like this. It outrageous in film community terms. I’m sure Amethyst is right that the fraudulent way the soundbites are spliced in the trailer is the tip of the iceberg, but, yes, that kind of fraud is beyond the pale.

    It’s like a lot of things: the rules are for the peons, the elites only invoke them at their convenience, and just ignore them when they’re inconvenient.

    COMPLETELY unverified, but a FB comment reports the scuttlebut around the TFF is that no one on the programming staff has actually seen ‘Vaxxed’. It was simply placed on the schedule by fiat.

  57. #57 sadmar
    sigh html fail
    March 25, 2016

    Surely there some kind of standards any film claiming to be a documentary has to meet!

    There are, but they’re not simple tick-off check boxes of ‘this or that technique’. It all depends on context and purpose. So I could rephrase Orac’s suspicion as a assertion of fact: Vaxxed isn’t the first documentary to air at a major film festival to have used the techniques by which Wakefield creates his lies. The difference is that those films don’t use those methods to the same degree or ends, and wind up in ‘gray areas’ regarding ‘truth’, where Andy winds up with results that are false in every sense at every level.

    Failure to meet the standards doesn’t make a film “not-a-documentary” (there’s a broad misunderstanding of what that term means), but it makes it a very bad documentary, and one that does not deserve to be screened, except for the purpose of putting it’s badness on display, so audiences can see how bankrupt the ‘movements’ advancing these ideas actually are. It’s now pretty clear that this is not what Tribeca had in mind, though I think we can turn it into that…

    Anyway, yeah some sketchy stuff has indeed appeared at big festivals, but nothing like this. It outrageous in film community terms. I’m sure Amethyst is right that the fraudulent way the soundbites are spliced in the trailer is the tip of the iceberg, but, yes, that kind of fraud is beyond the pale.

    It’s like a lot of things: the rules are for the peons, the elites only invoke them at their convenience, and just ignore them when they’re inconvenient.

    COMPLETELY unverified, but a FB comment reports the scuttlebut around the TFF is that no one on the programming staff has actually seen ‘Vaxxed’. It was simply placed on the schedule by fiat.

  58. #59 Orac
    March 25, 2016

    De Niro himself was definitely behind this:

    https://www.facebook.com/Tribeca/posts/10154153954489758

    I got an e-mail from a Tribeca publicist with this statement about a half hour ago.

  59. #60 Science Mom
    http://justthevax.blogspot.com/
    March 25, 2016

    DeNiro’s excuse for shoving this into the lineup is about as lame as I have seen. I guess he has no problem with fiction being passed off as documentary.

  60. […] few days ago, I learnt from Orac that the Tribeca Film Festival in New York will be showing the “documentary” Vaxxed, […]

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