BEHIND THE SCENES OF THE PATHOLOGICAL OPTIMIST:
A CONVERSATION WITH DIRECTOR MIRANDA BAILEY

Q: What motivated you to do a documentary on Andrew Wakefield?

MB: I gravitate towards provocative and discussion-making material for most of my films. When I began this journey in 2010, Andrew Wakefield was much less known in the United States. But those who did know him seemed to have very strong feelings either for or against him. I was curious as to who he was and how he could stand up to such rejection from his peers and such scrutiny in the media, so I decided to explore that in a documentary.

Q: How did you decide what angle to cover for the documentary?

MB: Every documentary filmmaker finds the film along the way. This movie was actually several movies before it became THE PATHOLOGICAL OPTIMIST. At one point, because Wakefield wasn’t interested in having me film and interview him (but I did it anyway), that film was called Chasing Andrew Wakefield. It was lighter in tone, and more of a “mom seeking him out to ask him questions,” trying to get some sort of truth out of him. Then in 2011, the British Medical Journal fraud accusations emerged and were all over the news. At that time, several Wakefield supporters reached out and reconnected me with Wakefield, who was now willing to allow me to follow him on his legal journey as he sued for defamation. At that point, the film changed again. I was hoping to do a picture that explored Andrew Wakefield and Brian Deer both suing each other, looking behind the scenes of their daily lives and getting to know them at the same time. However, I was unable to film Brian Deer’s side of the story. Suddenly, I was left with just Wakefield’s side. That’s when it became a character study.

As I filmed him and his family and got to know them, I was fascinated by his story versus what the media has shouted over the years about him. He’s reviled by some, revered by others. His haters truly hate him. His supporters adore and support him. That dichotomy intrigued me, and the film became a meditation on rejection. To me, Andrew Wakefield is a modern-day Sisyphus.

Q: What challenges were there not only in filming Wakefield’s life -- his family, his fans, his legal issues -- but in also making sure the view was objective and even-handed?

MB: It is impossible to do an objective, even-handed film when you are only capturing one side. I wasn’t interested in making a film about vaccines and their pros and cons, or if Andrew Wakefield was right or wrong. My film is not investigative journalism. As a filmmaker, what I care about is character. My interest was in observation. What was it like to be Wakefield’s wife? What was it like to be the child of someone who the media has called “The Worst Person in the World”? What keeps him going? These are moments we captured in this film that our audience will never see in the news. And that, to me, is exciting and provocative filmmaking.

Q: Did it take a lot to convince Wakefield to participate? With the film not being in his control, was he nervous about its outcome and the impact it would have?

MB: It wasn’t easy because at first, Wakefield was very closed-off. He has a lot of people surrounding him who I had to get through. I was able to form relationships with several of those people, and I became friends with many of them. When they realized I was a real filmmaker who wasn’t just out to demonize him or glorify him but trying to capture him, and them, during this moment in history, they helped convince Andrew to accept my proposal of filming him and his family.

Q: What surprised you the most over all the years of filming Andrew Wakefield?

MB: To me, it is incredibly surprising how many people, film festivals, and institutions are afraid to even discuss this subject. Though I knew it was controversial, I had no idea how “toxic” this subject was. I think that’s unfortunate, especially for artists and filmmakers. We should be able to explore topics without demonization. But today, the landscape has changed, and society wants everyone to shut up and stay in one box. I’ve never been someone to keep quiet and avoid pushing buttons, so I don’t fit in necessarily with this film, but I’m very proud of it.

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