Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner has intervened to prevent the Houston International Film Festival from screening the controversial film VAXXED.
Only one week after being removed from New York’s Tribeca Film Festival, VAXXED: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe, the documentary which highlights a whistleblowing scientist from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, has been removed from the WorldFest-Houston International Film & Video Festival.
The film follows the story of CDC research scientist, Dr. William Thompson. In August 2014, Thompson claimed that researchers involved in a study on the MMR vaccine “fudged numbers” to lower the number of black children who were adversely affected. Thompson is a senior scientist at the CDC and has been with the agency since 1998. On August 27, 2014 Dr. Thompson released a statement acknowledging that he and co-authors from a 2004 article published in the journal Pediatrics did in fact omit important information from a study on the link between vaccines and autism.
Dr. Thompson originally did not intend to be so forthcoming about his involvement until it was revealed that conversations he had with Dr. Brian Hooker had been recorded. Dr. Thompson handed over thousands of pages of documents to Congressman Bill Posey’s office for review. Posey serves on the Committee on Science, Space and Technology. There was very little chatter about the CDC whistleblower for quite some time until July 29th, 2015, when Congressman Bill Posey took to the floor of the House to discuss Dr. William Thompson and his documents. The debut of VAXXED has only increased the attention on Thompson’s claims.
VAXXED was originally scheduled to premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival but was removed and has faced heavy censorship. The film was also scheduled for the last night of the Houston International Film Festival, but was ultimately removed by officials with the festival after being contacted by officials within the Mayor’s Office. The news was first reported by Fox 26 in Houston.
“Breaking – Fox 26 has confirmed the controversial Autism film VAXXED has been dropped from the line-up of the Houston International Film Festival following the direct intervention of Mayor Sylvester Turner.”
“The mayor asked that it be removed from the lineup. I believe Judge Emmett did the same,” said Janice Evans, Chief Policy Officer & Director of Communications with the Mayor’s Office.
Mrs. Evans is referring to Harris County Judge Ed Emmett. A spokesperson for Judge Emmett told KHOU that the film festival had mistakenly implied that the county government was providing funding for the festival. Judge Emmett, a supporter of childhood vaccination programs, contacted the festival and Mayor Sylvester Turner’s office. Since the City of Houston is involved in providing funding to the Houston International Film Festival, the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs reached out and asked that the film not be screened.
Activist Post contacted Janice Evans and was able to confirm that the Mayor did not directly stop the film from being shown, but did ask that it not be screened at the Houston International Film Festival. “The mayor did not halt the showing of the movie. He asked that it not be included in the lineup because the film festival has received city grant funding,” Janice Evans told AP. “It is contradictory for the city to provide financial assistance to an event that is disseminating an anti-vaccination message that is counter to the work our health department does.”
I pressed the Mayor’s Office further, asking if it would it be contradictory for the city to allow Houstonians to view a film that provides them with information needed to make wise health decisions. I also pressed Mrs. Evans on whether or not the taxpayers of Houston have a right to view the film and choose how best to treat their families. “The statement I provided to you will suffice,” Evans retorted.
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Hunter Todd, chairman of the WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival, told KHOU that he intended to drop the film because it was screening in other theaters around the country. “The situation was immediately defused when I explained to (the mayor’s cultural affairs office) that we’re not showing it,” Todd said. “However, obviously, this film has struck a chord.”
What Hunter Todd failed to mention to KHOU, is that he was actually pressured into dropping the film from the festival. In a leaked email between Hunter Todd and Philippe Diaz, head of Cinema Libre, the distributor of VAXXED, Todd says he was pressured by “Houston government officials” to drop the film.
“I wanted you to know that just like De Niro and Tribeca, we must withdraw our invitation to screen VAXXED! It has been cancelled, and there was no press release about the film…that was scheduled for today, but after very threatening calls late yesterday (Monday) from high Houston Government officials (the first and only time they have ever called in 49 years) – we had no choice but to drop the film,” states Todd’s email to Diaz.
“Heavy handed censorship, to say the least…they both threatened severe action against the festival if we showed it, so it is out,” he added.
“I do hope that they did not call or threaten you. It is done, it is out and we have been censored… There are some very powerful forces against this project. It does seem a bit of overkill, as I am confident that it will be released Online soon and millions of people can see it.”
Activist Post spoke with both Todd and Diaz, and confirmed that the email is factual. Although Todd acknowledged the email, he denied that there was pressure. Instead, Todd claims that the programming committee for the Houston International Film Festival had already pulled the film because it was premiering in multiple cities and the festival only accepts new film premieres. He stated that his office was contacted by the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs but downplayed the “very threatening calls from high Houston Government officials” mentioned in the email.
Philippe Diaz, however, was more forthcoming about the email. “Unfortunately, it was not supposed to be leaked to the outside. It was a personal email sent to me and I made the mistake of sending it to the Director and the Producer, and someone leaked it to the press. But, yes, I received that email,” Diaz told AP.
“It is not an anti-vaccination movie, people are judging the movie without seeing it first. Even Robert De Niro said the film was not anti-vaccination,” Diaz continued. “Why didn’t the Mayor’s Office ask us to see the film? We would have been happy to show it to them.”
De Niro has in fact explained that he is not anti-vaccine. Still, the actor and co-founder of the Tribeca Film Festival said, “I didn’t want to make it a whole controversy with the festival. I said let me just pull it, we’ll deal with it later.”
Philippe Diaz also reiterated that the film was only recommending that the MMR vaccine be given after three years of age, or split it into three shots. “How can that be anti-vaccine?” he asked.
I think Tribeca created a major precedent by allowing their sponsors to decide what movies they can show. That’s exactly what happened. The Directors of Tribeca confirmed it to us. They had problems with sponsors. I think it created a horrible precedent, if you do not like what is in a movie, no matter the quality of the film you can pull it from a festival. It sends a horrible message to the filmmakers community. Either make a movie that sponsors like, if not you might not be included in any festival.
Regardless of your opinion on Dr. Thompson, or even vaccinations, the treatment of this film, especially intervention from city officials, is a very troubling sign. How can we the people make informed decisions about the medical establishment, government, the media, corporations, and all the various mechanisms that affect our lives on a daily basis? We simply cannot. Every free heart and mind deserves to be informed before they can best decide the path that will lead to a free and prosperous life. The Powers That Be are doing what they can to take that away from the people of Houston.
Derrick is available for interviews.
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