Controversial anti-vaccine film to screen in Castlemaine

Castlemaine Local and International Film Festival director David Thrussell says there is a clear public interest in the film. Photo: Bendigo Advertiser

Castlemaine Local and International Film Festival director David Thrussell says there is a clear public interest in the film. Photo: Bendigo Advertiser

The first Australian showing of a film by a disgraced former doctor whose "fraudulent" research underpinned the anti-vaccination movement has drawn a firestorm of outrage to a small film festival in country Victoria.

Since announcing an upcoming screening of "Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe", the organisers of the Castlemaine Local and International Film Festival say they have been hacked and subjected to relentless harassment.

But unlike Robert De Niro, who cut the film from the Tribeca Film Festival in New York under pressure from scientists and other filmmakers, the Castlemaine festival is standing by Vaxxed, which is still due to show at the town's Theatre Royal next month.

It has been advertised as an airing of allegations by former employee William Thompson that US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention covered up information about autism research, which suggested a causal link with the three-shot vaccine.

This is despite a strong consensus within the scientific community that vaccines don't cause autism, a position held by health authorities around the world and backed by several large reputable studies.

Although the film is being spruiked online by Australian anti-vaxx social networks, the festival's creative director David Thrussell maintains it is not "anti-vaccination," and was unanimously selected by the festival's committee after "vigorous debate" on its merits.

"There's a clear public interest in the film, it was the number-one best selling documentary on Amazon last week," he said.

"It strikes me as undemocratic to not listen to dissenting voices, a healthy democracy requires dissent."

The Facebook accounts of individual committee members, as well as the festival's website, were hacked in recent days as part of "a professional campaign of intimidation," Mr Thrussell said.

"We won't be intimidated, we've shown controversial films before, we try to touch on a whole lot of areas of public interest," he said.

After cutting Vaxxed in March, De Niro later expressed renewed support, saying he regretted the decision. "I, as a parent of a child who has autism, am concerned. And I want to know the truth," he told the US Today Show.

There is a strong consensus within the scientific community that vaccines don't cause autism. Photo: Wayne Taylor

There is a strong consensus within the scientific community that vaccines don't cause autism. Photo: Wayne Taylor

Mr Thrussell said he was watching that interview in a US hotel room when he decided to show the film in Castlemaine.

Among the many criticisms of Vaxxed is that the director and co-writer of the film, former doctor Andrew Wakefield, was the man responsible for the discredited 1998 study that suggested a link between autism and MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccinations. 

Australian health experts directly attribute unfounded fears that vaccines are unsafe to this study.

It was retracted in 2010 by the British journal  that published it, The Lancet, after a UK General Medical Council investigation found it had been proven false and that Wakefield had acted  "dishonestly and irresponsibly".  

He was also struck off the UK medical register.

The BMJ went even further, branding  the research "fraudulent," on the back of revelations by investigative journalist Brian Deer that Wakefield had altered patient data to support his claim against vaccines and had not disclosed financial interests.

Australian Medical Association president Dr Michael Gannon accused the Castlemaine festival of seeking to raise its own profile of the festival by stirring up a controversy.

"Nothing good can come from the public screening of this film," he said. 

"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.

"Every time we see a 1 or 2 per cent reduction in the rate of vaccination in our community we give the opportunity for preventable infectious diseases to take a hold."

The filmmakers are expected to do a video introduction for the Castlemaine audience.

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