One of the best documentaries coming into this awards season is this Netflix feature that was executive produced by Barack and Michelle Obama. Crip Camp follows the participants of Camp Jened in the 1970s which was a place that catered to teenagers with physical disabilities. Written and directed by Nicole Newnham and James Lebrecht, the film looks at the campers’ experience at the camp and also their experiences as disabled teens growing up in ableist American in the mid-20th century and how they managed to create change when it comes to ableist discrimination. Starting with the inception of Camp Jened, we are taken through the camp’s lifespan, the campers and their stories to adulthood and how the camp has affected them and motivated them to inspire change. Crip Camp doesn’t hold back and doesn’t want you to feel pity for the campers but inspiration. We immediately see the campers adapting to their environments and thriving despite what society wants to make them think. Simultaneously, simple things such as easy access to public transport and buildings doesn’t exist and organisations and campaigners take it on themselves to fight an establishment that refuses to have their back.
Starring interviews from as many of the campers, campaigners and Camp counsellors, Crip Camp immerses you into their world at the time. As the campers frequently experience discrimination in the “real world”, especially those who had more severe disabilities whereas at Camp Jened they are able to express themselves and feel like they can be heard without prejudice. Refusing to be defined by a society that doesn’t cater to their needs, the kinship at Jened soon turns into a powerful campaign to outlaw ableist discrimination. Also, the rebellious nature that the campers had from a young age has followed through to the present day. They campaign and protest strongly whilst also having fun as they refuse to let society’s bias dampen their spirits.
One of the most powerful scenes in the film comes in the form of the “Capitol Crawl” in which 1,000 people travelled to the Capitol to campaign for the Americans with Disabilities Act to be passed. 60 of the protestors then proceeded to climb up the steps to showcase the need for easy accessibility. To see this footage alongside interviews with organisers and fellow protestors sums up the struggle and the result of their campaigning. When starting the film, you don’t think that it will all end up at the steps of the Capitol but the film grows bigger from the small group of campers to the nationwide protest. Camp Jened feels like a starting point of revolution and this is an important story for our times.
Behind the scenes, the highlight for me is Bear McCreary’s score. Known for his dramatic music for film, television and games with The Walking Dead theme song being his most well-known venture, his score for Crip Camp is subtle and beautiful. The perfect backing track that tells a story in itself, McCreary has been making his mark on composing in recent years and this is another huge accomplishment. Justin Schien’s cinematography is also a fantastic element to the film thanks to his minimalist and realistic approach.
Overall, Crip Camp is a film that brings the unexpected. Chronicling the summers at camp that gave these kids a chance to be themselves with no restrictions, we see how their positive experiences rippled through into their adulthood and inspired change. It will leave you astounded and in awe of the incredible achievements that transpired from their experiences.
What did you think of Crip Camp? Let me know in the comments below!
Crip Camp is available to watch now on Netflix.