‘Crip Camp’ Reveals Summer season Camp That Ignited A Civil Rights Motion – Deadline

Can a summer camp change the world? When you talk about Camp Jened in upstate New York, a place where children with disabilities have been welcome for a generation, the answer is yes.

“It was a utopia,” recalls camper Denise Sherer Jacobson in Crip Camp, the Netflix documentary about Jened and how she helped advance the disability rights movement. “When we were there, there was no outside world.”

Directors Nicole Newnham and Jim LeBrecht relied on remarkable footage filmed in Jened in 1971 for their film, which showed how groundbreaking the camp was. There, children with disabilities were treated as people, not as broken objects with no hope or purpose. Campers laughed, played, lit romances and had to be in an atmosphere of acceptance.

‘Crip Camp’ Review: Netflix & The Obamas Present Documentary That Adds a Welcoming Human Lens to America’s Disabled Community

The Crip Camp Directors Nicole Newnham and Jim LeBrecht
Sacha Maric / Netflix

“We tried to create an environment in which teenagers can be teenagers,” explains camp director Larry Allison in the film, “without all stereotypes and labels.”

LeBrecht not only co-directed Crip Camp, he’s also a leading actor. He was born with spina bifida and attended Camp Jened as a teenager in 1970 after hearing about it from friends.

“They told me these stories: ‘Oh yes, you are in a bunk with these counselors and we are up almost half the night,” he shares like ‘Okay, I’m in.’ “

Fundamental to the impact of Camp Jened was the way in which the awareness of the participating children was raised.

“[The attitude was] We weren’t available, ”LeBrecht told Deadline. “It was really revolutionary. There were a number of people in the camp who really felt, “Oh my god, we can fight back. There are rights to be fought for. ‘”

One such inspirational figure was Judy Heumann, a 23-year-old camp counselor from 1971. She moved from Jened to leading protests on the streets of New York against barriers that prevented people with disabilities from equally participating in American life.

Judy Heumann at the 'Crip Camp'


“The camp experience was impressive,” she says in the documentary. “We continued these discussions. This enabled us to see that we had to look for ways to do things together – not just in the camp, but after the camp as well. “

“It’s the idea of ​​a group of people … sharing experiences and realizing that they share a common experience of oppression,” Newnham notes. “It’s like having to come together and find your strength in each other … and that’s exactly what Jened assumed, it was such a strong stepping stone for the movement.”

The movement accelerated during the 1970s. Crip Camp is researching how Heumann and other Jened alums became leaders in their communities and nationally, and works with other activists to push for laws that make disabled access mandatory.

“I think this is really one of the great civil rights stories in American history, and it has been very overlooked for a long time,” Newnham notes. “[In Crip Camp] It is like the world is getting to know one of its great stories, getting to know it, love it and celebrate it. “


A top contender for Oscar recognition, Crip Camp received Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival as well as nominations for Best Documentary in both the Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards and the upcoming IDA Awards. The film was produced by Higher Ground Productions, the company founded by former Presidents Barack Obama and Michelle Obama that has a distribution agreement with Netflix. Her previous endeavors, American Factory won an Oscar for best documentary last February.

“[The Obamas believe in] the power of grassroots activism, the idea of ​​publishing stories that don’t always get the spotlight they should, ”Newnham comments. “It’s a bipartisan story.”

Higher Ground Productions acquired American Factory after it was completed. But with Crip Camp, the company and its clients, including co-boss Priya Swaminathan, signed up much earlier in the filmmaking process.

“We were able to show them some early recordings, sort of a highlight role that we edited together, and Priya Swaminathan really loved it,” Newnham told Deadline. “We talked about our values ​​and our vision for the kind of story we wanted to tell and there seemed to be a lot of agreement. [Later] She called us … and said, “We’d love to work with you, and President and Ms. Obama feel the same way.” That was just extraordinary, extraordinary news. “


Crip Camp garnered high praise (and a 100% rating from Rotten Tomatoes critics), but directors admit that choosing a title raised some eyebrows.

“We … wanted to telegraph that the movie was a story told from the inside,” Newnham explains, “and that it was an inside perspective, and we felt the title made that really powerful . “

“The recoil or concern we heard from some of the parties involved in the film we just turned around and said, ‘This ‘Crip Camp’ Reveals Summer Camp That Ignited A Civil Rights Movement – Deadline really shows the nervousness of the film and really sets it apart from everything else, ”adds LeBrecht. “And that we should reclaim that word too, and indeed that would be a powerful way to continue doing so if our film had the word ‘Crip’ in the title.”

LeBrecht and Newnham formulate goals for the documentary that go far beyond the prospect of winning further prizes.

“Our film is … not a difficult way to understand people with disabilities and the life we ​​lead,” notes LeBrecht. “The great hope is that it will really redefine people’s perceptions of what life with a disability is and how that kind of correspondence with their own life and their own beliefs and prejudices they may have.”

“We hope it is a bridge or a driveway for people to discover the incredible wealth, vitality and fun that the disabled community is a resource,” says Newnham. “If this film can be any kind of introduction or mind-altering story that can open people’s eyes and help play a role in other stories, that would be a hope we both harbor.”

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