The famous Hollywood actor and two times Oscar winner, Robert De Niro, is known as a man who values his privacy.

Nevertheless, he opened up about his family in a rare personal statement on Friday - as he defended his decision to screen a controversial anti-vaccination documentary at the Tribeca Film Festival.

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“Grace 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. 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. 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; I am only providing the opportunity for a conversation around the issue.”

The actor's son Elliot, who just turned 18, is thought to be the child the father-of-six is referring to.

De Niro founded the Tribeca Film Festical, giving him the opportunity to insist upon adding Vaxxed: From Cover-Up To Catastrophe to its schedule.

De Niro has previously referred to having a child with 'special needs' as one of the reasons he decided to star in David O. Russell's film Silver Linings Playbook.

While saying he had played no part in the selection of the film for the festival, he said he hoped it would foster discussion about alleged links between common childhood vaccines and autism. His son Elliot, 18, is autistic

In fact, while promoting the film in February 2013, he teared up during an appearance on NBC's Today as he talked about why he chose to do the movie, that co-starred Bradly Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence.

'If you’re a father, you certainly understand what it’s like to go through the worry about your kids, especially if they’ve got issues like Bradley’s character has,' he explained.

'Sometimes it can be overwhelming. It can be nightmarish and upsetting. There’s nothing much you can do but deal with it.'

De Niro and Hightower also have a young daughter Helen Grace, five, and the Raging Bull star also has four other children from previous relationships.

But the famous Tribeca Film Festival caved to mainstream demands and pressure and have removed Andrew Wakefield’s documentary, Vaxxed: From Cover Up To Catastrophe, from the official Tribeca Film lineup. Tribeca’s SVP of Communications released the following statement to

“My intent in screening this film was to provide an opportunity for conversation around an issue that is deeply personal to me and my family. But after reviewing it over the past few days with the Tribeca Film Festival team and others from the scientific community, we do not believe it contributes to or furthers the discussion I had hoped for.

The Festival doesn’t seek to avoid or shy away from controversy. However, we have concerns with certain things in this film that we feel prevent us from presenting it in the Festival program. We have decided to remove it from our schedule.”

The director of Vaxxed, Andrew Wakefield, has been thoroughly discredited by the scientific community - and blamed for a fall in the number of children receiving life saving vaccines.

Fears about vaccines and autism began to spread after the publication in 1998 of an article by Wakefield that purported to find a link between the MMR vaccine and autism in 12 children.

It was later found to be fraudulent and was retracted by the journal that published it.

As the author, Wakefield was stripped of his medical license.

But concerns over vaccine safety, particularly in the Internet age, have proven difficult to quell.

A very vocal group of parents - including celebrities such as Jenny McCarthy, Alicia Silverstone and Toni Braxton - embraced the idea and refuse to get their children vaccinated.

De Niro issued his statement Friday after an outcry from critics of Wakefield and his controversial views, and accusations that the Tribeca Film Festival had 'sold out to anti-vaccine crackpots.'

Writing in the LA Times, columnist Michael Hiltzik said screening the documentary at the festival would only serve to legitimize Wakefield's stance.

'Careless actions such as those of the Tribeca Film Festival don't contribute to 'dialogue and discussion,' as the festival's PR would have it; they just spread misinformation and pseudoscience and undermine public health,' Hiltzik wrote.


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