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Review: 'Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution'

Updated: Sep 13, 2020

I realize I’m a little late to the party with this review.

It’s been out for a while. It’s been generating some very positive buzz.

It won the Audience Award for Best Documentary at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

I finally had a chance to catch up last evening and was glad I did.

My schedule has been pretty jammed as of late, screening documentary films for awards competition.

So, available time was a factor.

Also, then there was the title of the movie.

I knew that, by definition, crip is an "offensive term for a disabled person."

I erroneously thought I had a rough handle on the film’s content.

I didn’t.

It's so much more than the story of a summer camp for disabled teens.

Yes, it starts out telling a tale about a special camp for special teens set back in the proximity and wake of the Woodstock Music festival.

Essentially, it was a bunch of long-haired, weird-looking, hippie camp counselors, with little or no formal training, recruited to provide activities for a small collection of young people who shared a common bond.

They all struggled to overcome some sort of debilitating disability. Each of them struggled alone in a world that didn’t quite know what to do with them.

Camp Jened offered them an opportunity to come together to be with other people like themselves, in a fresh air, outdoor setting where they could play wheelchair softball, row boats, and have fun.

They began to organize their own activities. They began to vote on what they would eat, as a group. Unconsciously, they became political.

Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution begins with old reel-to-reel, black and white videotape footage, some of the earliest portable videotape equipment available in the early 1970s.

It captures the day-to-day experience of life in the camp, chronicling activities and gathering interviews with campers and counselors.

Everything is from the campers’ point of view.

Oftentimes, it’s just for laughs and giggles, a glorified home movie of their experiences.

Occasionally, it is candidly revealing, with special needs teens really opening up to each other about what it’s like to be in their shoes.

It’s a sometimes painful level of honesty and truth that an adult or outsider would never have the opportunity to capture.

The camp experience opens up their world.

They slowly get to know one another. They begin to date each other and explore their pent up sexuality.

It’s the age of free love. It’s an awakening of first kisses, making out, having sex and getting the crabs.

They openly, giddily share it all with the ever-rolling camera.

It’s a heartwarming story and it’s perhaps all that you would expect from Crip Camp.

It would have been a good movie, worth watching even if that was what it was all about.

But you discover that this is only the beginning of the movie, the setup, laying the foundation of what follows.

And what follows is staggeringly good.

Without giving away too much, let’s just say that the movie escalates to whole new levels as the campers apply their bond of camaraderie and newfound political skills to take on the world and make everyone aware of the plight.

It’s a long, uphill battle that is well-documented at every stage.

Their guerilla grassroots campaign starts to take shape on the campus at Berkeley, California.

Ultimately, it leads them to Washington, D.C., where they literally crawl up the steps of the Capitol Building in their effort to create public awareness and change the laws of the land with regard to the treatment of people with disabilities.

Yes, this is the long, but fascinating backstory leading to the passing of the Americans with Disabilities

Act 30 years ago.

It’s that part of the story that the cruel sounding title sells short.

Yes, it’s a story that begins in a freaky fun camp in the Catskills for some kids who were emotionally broken and barely recognized by the society in which they lived.

But it goes far, far beyond that, becoming a story of powerful conviction and unbreakable courage and resolve.

As a documentary film, Crip Camp is a 10 on a scale of 10. It’s really in a class by itself.

It’s a compelling, entertaining story that is a must-see movie.

Its co-directors were Emmy- winning filmmaker Nicole Newnham and former camper Jim LeBrecht, who is featured in the film.

It sets the bar in terms of what a well-researched, well-produced documentary film can do. And what it can make you feel.


Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution is on Netflix now.

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