A controversial anti-vaccination film that was banned from the Tribeca Film Festival is coming to Santa Monica.
The West Coast debut of “Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe” is scheduled for April 15 at the Monica Film Center, which will host Q&A sessions with director Andrew Wakefield in conjunction with several of the upcoming screenings.
Laemmle Theatres executives are committed to showing the film despite Tribeca’s decision to pull it, CEO Greg Laemmle said. He said there’s been no outside pressure to cancel the local screenings.
“Leaving aside the merits of the subject itself, which are certainly open to debate, I don’t like the idea that films that are controversial run into problems like this,” he said Tuesday. “We’re not endorsing the position of the film or the filmmakers or the subjects, but we want to let people have a shot to see it and let them decide.”
The documentary arrives locally a few weeks after Tribeca founder Robert De Niro announced it would not be featured at the prestigious festival despite its listing in the original lineup. The acclaimed actor initially defended the inclusion of the film, but it was removed after scientists and medical experts weighed in and questioned its credibility.
Much of the conflict centers around Wakefield, the author of a since-retracted study linking vaccines and autism that was published in a British medical journal.
The scientific community has widely criticized Wakefield’s work, although publicists for “Vaxxed” contest its designation as “anti-vaccine” and argue that it exposes scientific fraud and government wrong- doing.
The issue is clearly resonating with local audiences. The screenings featuring Q&A forums with Wakefield are already sold out, according to the Laemmle web- site. Theater officials knew the post-film forums “would be part of the appeal,” Laemmle said.
“There is a community that is opposed to vaccinations, and maybe [the film is] a case of preaching to the choir,” he said. “But even so, does that mean people shouldn’t have that opportunity?”
The screenings of “Vaxxed” underscore Laemmle Theatres’ goal of carving out a space in the local entertainment industry for independent movies, documentaries and foreign films, regardless of how controversial the subject matter is.
And the showings could be a shot in the arm for the Monica Film Center, which recently opened after extensive renovations. The former four-plex at 1332 2nd St., between Santa Monica Boulevard and Arizona Avenue, now features six smaller auditoriums and expects to welcome a new ground-floor restaurant by June.
The local screenings of “Vaxxed” rekindle a debate over vaccinations that surged in the aftermath of a Disneyland-related measles outbreak that affected a Santa Monica High School baseball coach and an infant at the school’s child care center in early 2015. Gov. Jerry Brown later that year signed into law Senate Bill 277, which pre- vents parents from citing personal beliefs to decline vaccines for their school-age children.
Wakefield’s movie will certainly fuel discussions on the matter, Laemmle said.
“The whole point is, buy a ticket or don’t buy a ticket,” he said. “But if someone can’t buy a ticket, then it becomes an issue. The marketplace should be a place where people can freely air their opinions.”