Meet the heroes empowering international disability rights in the Oscar-nominated documentary “Crip Camp.”
Watch the opening scenes of “Crip Camp,” the Oscar-nominated documentary set at an early ’70s summer camp for teens with disabilities. You may identify the campers and disabled and non-disabled Camp Jened counselors in the film as the most unlikely of heroes overcoming physical challenges. Thanks to the inspirational storytelling of “Crip Camp” filmmakers Nicole Newnham and Jim Lebrecht, you’ll quickly change your mind and understand that the campers and staffers of Camp Jened are the most purposeful and anticipated of heroes. Their disabilities, whether from an accident or a childhood contraction of polio, are not solely handicaps. “Crip Camp” helps you re-identify disabilities as different categories of physical characteristics. They’re certainly not barriers because “Crip Camp” alum ignited disability rights worldwide.
The ramshackle cabins of Camp Jened are just a starting point for co-directors Newnham and Lebrecht. They trace the disability rights movement from Camp Jened, an early 70s summer camp for disabled teens in New York’s Catskills Mountains, to a 28-day sit-in at a federal office building in 1977 to the American Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990. “Crip Camp,” an Audience Award Winner at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival and a 2021 Oscar nominee for Best Documentary Feature, tells the story of the “Jenedians,” campers of various disabilities and diverse backgrounds, including co-director Lebrecht and disabled and non-disabled counselors and camp staff like Judy Heumann. Together, Camp Jened campers and staffers build a no-judgment, welcoming community. The camp summers would inspire them for the rest of their lives. “Crip Camp” follows the social justice journeys of various Camp Jened alum like Heumann and their advocacy efforts leading to the ADA.
Newnham, Lebrecht, and editors Andrew Gersj, Mary Lampson, and Eileen Meyer successfully mix original camp footage from the ’70s with new interviews reconnecting Camp Jened alum. Throughout the movie, values supporting accessibility, diversity, inclusion, and disability rights take center stage. “Crip Camp” is a powerful social cause documentary thanks to Newnham and Lebrecht emphasizing a human touch and the extraordinary heroes driving their social justice story. To make the world better, you need great heroes.
“Crip Camp” is available on Netflix.
Directors: James Lebrecht and Nicole Newnham
Production: Good Gravy Films
Editors: Andrew Gersh, Mary Lampson, and Eileen Meyer
Behind the Curtain: Camp Jened alum Judith “Judy” Heumann served as the World Bank’s first adviser on Disability and Development and was selected to the TIME 100 Women of the Year project.