Sundance 2020: Crip Camp

A still from Crip Camp by Nicole Newnham and Jim LeBrecht, an official selection of the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Steve Honigsbaum. All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or 'Courtesy of Sundance Institute.' Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

Crip Camp is more than just a documentary on Camp Jened but a film about the drive to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act.

I’m going to cut straight to the point here.  Jimmy Carter’s presidential administration is not painted in a good light here.  In fact, this film will only lead to angry feelings at Carter’s administration for what they didn’t do.  No, the anger doesn’t go away.  The George H.W. Bush admistration would do what Carter’s couldn’t: sign the ADA into law in 1990.  It’s the 30th anniversary so this film couldn’t arrive with better timing.  Barack and Michelle Obama were wise to sign onto this film as executive producers.  It’s very fitting for their brand even if it paints a former Democratic president in an awful light.

Could anyone have predicted the future when Camp Jened started up as a summer camp for disabled teens?  Future leaders of the disabled rights movement would come out of the Catskills-based camp.  Many of them would eventually relocate to the Berkeley area and set up shop there.  The location might have changed but their bond only grew stronger as they paved the way for what was still to come.

One such leader to come out of the camp was then-counselor Judy Heumann.  Without Heumann and other Jened alumni, the 26-day takeover of a federal building in 1977 likely would not have happened.  The takeover has come to be known as the 504 Sit-In.  But it did and for that, Americans should be thankful.  They raised up their voices and said enough is enough.  Unfortunately, the Carter administration decided to play politics.  The fight would ensue until the first President Bush signed the ADA into law thirteen years later.  Sadly, this film is the first time that I heard about the protest.  There’s no reason why it shouldn’t be in history books.

The thing that is so striking about Camp Jened is that this was a place where they were free to be themselves.  Very few locations would allow disabled Americans to freely express themselves.  Public schools didn’t quite have the resources available that they do now.  All there really was for these Americans was Camp Jened.

Crip Camp utilizes talking head interviews but also manages to make use of the archival resources at hand.  That the media didn’t do their job only means limited archival footage is available.  The filmmakers make the best use of the resources available–including Evan White’s footage.  Co-director Jim LeBrecht’s knowledge helps to strengthen the film’s story.

DIRECTORS:  Nicole Newnham and Jim LeBrecht
FEATURING:  Jim LeBrecht, Judy Heumann, Denise Sherer Jacobson, Lionel Je’Woodyard, Neil Jacobson, Ann Cupolo Freeman, Joe O’Conor, Corbett O’Toole, HolLynn D’Lil, Dennis Billups, Evan White

Crip Camp held its world premiere during the 2020 Sundance Film Festival in the U.S. Documentary Competition. Netflix will launch Crip Camp later this year. Grade: 4/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.