Review by Sean Boelman
The second documentary to come out of Netflix’s partnership with Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company Higher Ground, Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution offers an intimate look at an important era of the movement for disability rights. Telling an important story in a moving way, directors James Lebrecht and Nicole Newnham have created what is sure to be one of the year’s most talked-about documentaries.
The film tells the story of Camp Jened, a camp down the street for Woodstock that caters to the disabled, and its campers, many of whom would go on to become important advocates for disabled rights. At its core, this movie serves as a compelling human interest story that is packed with emotion, but it becomes even more fascinating due to the context in which it occurs.
Much of the first half of the film presents itself as a jolly documentary about the people that need it the most finding a place where they feel comfortable to be themselves. Because Lebrecht and Newnham incorporate footage and music from the Woodstock festival to go along with the footage from Camp Jened, those who are interested in the music scene will find a lot to enjoy in this documentary.
However, it soon becomes clear that this movie has a lot more on its mind than showing a noble cause from the past. Once the film starts to explore some of the campers’ stories in more depth, the impact that Camp Jened had on the political environment of that era and beyond. While it is entertaining hearing all of the interviews about the drug-fueled hijinks that the campers got into, it is even more rewarding to hear about their accomplishments.
One thing that the movie does seem to be missing is the perspective of the counselors. Although there are some interviews with Camp Jened employees, and it is understandable why the filmmakers wanted to emphasize the campers’ voices, some of the interviews offer some unexplored material about the allies of the disabled community.
But above everything else, this film is a tale of compassion. Whether the movie is talking about the political activism of one of the campers, or simply what they did to have fun at camp, Lebrecht and Newnham want to inspire the audience to look at the world and its inhabitants in a different and more empathetic way.
On a technical level, Lebrecht and Newnham have created a very strong film. The blend of archive footage and interviews works perfectly to tell the story in a compelling and cinematic way. Additionally, the soundtrack, infused with the sounds of classic rock that were appropriate to the era, helps give the movie further narrative momentum.
Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution is both an extremely entertaining and a significantly meaningful portrait of a cause that was ahead of its time. This story of what it means to have each other’s backs couldn’t come at a better time.
Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution hits Netflix on March 25.