Sundance 2020: Crip Camp

Courtesy of Sundance Institute - Photo by Steve Honigsbaum
Courtesy of Sundance Institute – Photo by Steve Honigsbaum

Everybody deserves to have their story told. No matter your race or ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity, your ability or disability.

Crip Camp is one of those stories. Directed by James LeBrecht and Nicole Newman, this documentary is an account of pivotal moments within the disability rights movement, taking place through the 1970s and 1980s. It picks up with a group of people, through archival footage and interviews, who attended Camp Jened.

This summer camp was a place for those with disabilities, from polio to cerebral palsy, to be themselves and to be around other people similar to them. While there, these teens learned about who they were, developed their voices, discovered their sexuality, and, overall, just had a great time. They did all the things they couldn’t do at home.

After Camp Jened, Crip Camp traces the lives of some of the campers and what they went on to do with their careers. These pursuits include sound design and mixing, disability advocacy, university degrees, human sexuality, and much more.

At the core of this documentary is a human depiction of people too often considered as “others,” or “untouchable.” Looked upon with apprehension and fear, the recognition of people with disabilities came at a time when many were still being institutionalized. In the United States, there was no Americans with Disabilities Act, ensuring equitable access to public spaces and services. The world was mostly unfriendly to the disabled fifty years ago. In many ways, that would be unthinkable today.

Crip Camp is a political story about the people who fought for change. They staged marches and sit-ins, worked with their elected officials, and demanded attention from those in power, all the way up to the White House. There are clear parallels to the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, painting these efforts as a natural extension. At one point in the documentary, it’s recalled that the Black Panther Party helped to feed protesters staging a sit-in of a federal building, further driving home the support that was steadily mounting.

This is a profoundly emotional and important film with people who have simply sought to live their lives and to be their best selves, away from scrutiny and discouragement. Crip Camp releases on Netflix in March 2020.

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