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'Vaxxed' pulled from Houston's International Film Fest

HOUSTON - What’s shown in the preview alone for "Vaxxed" is enough to scare any parent.

A boy bangs his head against a book, a toddler who’s seemingly healthy one moment stumbles to the ground in the next shot.

Over a slow motion image of a crying baby, a pediatrician says everything he’s told his patients for a decade has been based on a lie and a cover-up.

And a medical researcher projects that in 16 years, half of all children born in the United States will be on the spectrum of autism.

That frightening prediction appears in the promotional trailer for “Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe,” a new documentary both cursed and blessed with ongoing controversy.

Robert DeNiro dropped its scheduled showing at his prestigious Tribeca Film Festival, but that’s only brought more attention to a film exploring the widely debunked theory of a link between vaccines and autism.

Now, the controversy has rolled into Houston, where Mayor Sylvester Turner took steps to stop its scheduled screening at the city’s international film festival.

“We just couldn’t have city funding encouraging people not to have their kids vaccinated,” said Janice Evans, a spokesperson for the mayor.

The WorldFest – Houston International Film Festival boasts an impressive list of screenings for its 49 year history.

Steven Spielberg received an award here for his first noteworthy short, “Amblin’.” The Coen brothers used their hometown festival as a showcase for their first feature film, “Blood Simple.”

After DeNiro decided to drop “Vaxxed,” WorldFest Houston booked the documentary for a screening on the festival’s closing night.

As a high-profile documentary produced out of Austin, it seemed like a natural for Houston’s festival.

Then someone called Harris County Judge Ed Emmett.

A spokesperson for Emmett, who’s interested in childhood vaccination efforts, said WorldFest had mistakenly produced promotional materials implying the county government was providing some funding to the festival.

Emmett not only contacted the festival, his spokesman said, he also alerted Mayor Sylvester Turner.

Unlike Harris County, Houston’s city government provides some funding to the film festival. Then the mayor’s office of cultural affairs contacted WorldFest.

By then, WorldFest chairman Hunter Todd said, he had already decided to drop “Vaxxed” because it was screening in other theaters around the country.

Houston’s festival, he explained, shows only premieres.

“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.”

That doesn’t mollify the film’s director, Andrew Wakefield, a controversial British gastroenterologist who wrote a later-discredited research paper purporting to establish a link between vaccines and autism.

“The story is about fraud at the CDC,” said Wakefield. “They’re telling the mayor it’s an anti-vaccine story. And he, without having even seen the film, is putting extreme pressure on the Houston International Film Festival.”

Still, Todd readily admits he would’ve dropped the film under pressure from the mayor or the festival’s sponsors.

“The thing is, it can’t be censored now because of the Internet,” Todd said. “It will be seen all over the world in a matter of days.”

But it won’t be among the more than 200 films from around the world screened during Houston’s ten day film festival.