Starting on Wednesday (March 25) on Netflix, there’s an exuberant, uplifting documentary, Crip Camp, this year’s Sundance Audience Award-winner.
In 1971, when theatrical/film sound designer Jim LeBrecht was 15, he spent an extraordinary summer at an experimental camp for disabled kids. After sharing his memories with Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Nicole Newnham, they decided to make a movie.
Of course, they had no idea that final funding would come from Higher Ground, the production company run by Barack and Michelle Obama.
In upstate New York, Camp Jened claims to be the birthplace of the disability-rights movement. When Jim LeBrecht, born with spina bifida, embarked on the three-hour bus trip into the Catskills, he knew that it was a place for children with disabilities – and it was run by hippies.
Founded by Larry Allison, the ramshackle, countercultural camp welcomed kids with varying levels of mobility, communication and socialization. Counselors like Judy Heumann juggled the polio-stricken with those afflicted with cerebral palsy; years later, she co-organized the 28-day San Francisco 504 occupation.
“We were still in the Age of Aquarius, seeing all these different liberation movements going around,” recalls Jim LeBrecht. “We would talk about the world around us. Conversations would start about our liberation, what we can’t do and why, asking: what can we do about it?”
Filled with inspiring interviews and remarkable archival footage (filmed by the People’s Video Theater), it’s a glimpse into another world. Like other teens, these campers enjoy hanging out, listening to music, falling in love and smoking pot.
Entering college, many campers became committed activists, participating in the protests that helped advance accessibility and anti-discrimination laws for Americans with disabilities.
In Road Map for Inclusion, a 2019 report on disability-in-media, Judy Heumann wrote: “It is no longer acceptable to not have women at the table. It is no longer acceptable to not have people of color at the table. But no one thinks to see if the table is accessible.”
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, Crip Camp is an inspiring 8, sparking a revolution.