The 1970s were a time of political uprising and grassroots activism, including among young people with disabilities. A new documentary titled “Crip Camp” aims to take viewers inside the birth of modern-day disability advocacy.
“Crip Camp” was created by filmmakers Nicole Newnham and Jim LeBrecht, who has spina bifida. The documentary combines archival footage captured at LeBrecht’s former summer camp for teenagers with disabilities, Camp Jened in New York, in the 1970s. Together with modern-day interviews, “Crip Camp” tells the story of the disability rights movement that led to the Americans With Disability Act in 1990 and beyond.
As a teen, I worked 5 summers at a camp for teens & adults w #disabilities. This film clip brought back memories & made me sob (in a good way). I'm looking forward to seeing this film about #CampJened, which changed so many lives, including mine. #CripCamp https://t.co/KQvmLQhcZq
— Robyn Ochs (@robynochs) January 23, 2020
LeBrecht hopes to turn the tables on negative stereotypes by highlighting how the disability community has been self-advocating for decades. He wanted to show that people with disabilities are empowered not because of extraordinary qualities typically presented as inspiration porn, but because of self-determination.
“So many of the tropes out there are either of the depressed and horrible life of someone who has acquired a disability, or someone that overcame their disability and wound up climbing Half Dome with their pinkies, but you don’t see that much in between,” LeBrecht told the Hollywood Reporter. “[Ours] wasn’t a fight to be extraordinary. This was a fight to have a life of one’s choosing.”
According to the Hollywood Reporter, LeBrecht and Newnham see “Crip Camp” as a powerful tool to reset the general public’s understanding in the same way the 1984 documentary “The Times of Harvey Milk” changed the conversation about LGBTQ rights.
“We want Americans to hold this story as a part of who we are,” said Newnham, who does not have a disability.
“There really hasn’t been a film that resets the attitude of society around disability,” LeBrecht said.
So happy that our film, Crip Camp, is premiering opening night at Sundance. https://t.co/LZbAZLisP4
— James LeBrecht (@JimLeBrecht) December 5, 2019
LeBrecht and Newnham’s “Crip Camp” caught the attention of the Obamas’ production company, Higher Ground, which backed the project. According to Newnham, the film’s power comes from its authentic representation as told through the lens of a disabled filmmaker.
“If I or anyone else without a disability tried to make this documentary, it would have been another history documentary,” Newnham said, adding:
Every step of the filmmaking process was informed by the life experience of someone with a disability. As someone who has gone into communities and made films about people with life experience I didn’t know about, it was really powerful to observe the difference.