Robert De Niro Defends Screening of Anti-Vaccination Movie at Tribeca Film Festival

This year's Tribeca Film Festival could prove to be its most contentious yet.

Controversy swirls over Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe, a purported documentary by director Andrew Wakefield, that will screen during the festival. Wakefield is a British ex-physician who claimed vaccines cause autism.

Now, TIFF co-founder Robert De Niro has released a personal statement defending his choice to screen the film.

"Grace [Hightower] 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," his statement reads.

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"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," the 72-year-old actor explained. "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," De Niro concluded. "I am only providing the opportunity for a conversation around the issue."

Wakefield's report linking vaccines and autism was originally published in the medical journal, The Lancet, in 1998, but was retracted in 2010 when "several elements" were revealed to be incorrect. The latter fact has been left out of the TIFF bio for Wakefield, who has also been stripped of his medical license, which refers to him as "one of the most controversial figures in the history of medicine."

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Here's the official description for the film, from Tribeca's program:

"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."

Meanwhile, documentarian and TIFF alumnus Penny Lane has written a now-viral open letter to the festival, calling their choice to screen the film "dangerous."

"Issues around truth and ethics in documentary can get thorny. But this one is easy," she writes. "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."

Kristen Bell previously opened up to ET about being pro-vaccination and why she may not have been before she had kids. Find out what she said in the video below.

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