The world needs documentary cinema. Filmmakers willing to shine a light on the human condition, in all of its forms, are essential to the world. Moreover, we need tastemakers who are willing to seek out these stories, support them as they struggle to get made, and then nurture them as they enter the world. Too often, a documentary will go unseen. Kudos to our last President and First Lady, Barack Obama and Michelle Obama, respectively, for the work they’re doing with their Higher Ground shingle. Partnered with Netflix, they won the Oscar Best Documentary Feature last year with American Factory. Tomorrow, they return with another awards worthy doc in Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution.
The film, coming at the same time as the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, looks at the revolutionary Camp Jened. In the early 1970s, teenagers with disabilities had very little in the way of options. Discrimination and limited opportunities were the norm, creating a sense of depression, isolation, and “otherness” that was truly awful.. The camp, a ramshackle haven in the Catskills for for the “handicapped,” was a tonic to that depression. There, they could just be teens. Camp Jened was seen as their version of a free love style Utopia, a place with limited rules, sports, willing members of the opposite sex, and a lack of judgment. It truly was a place where one could just be themselves. The documnetary follows several campers as they grew up, moved west to Berkeley, California, and began a fight for equality and life-changing accessibility for millions of similarly afflicted men and women. Nicole Newnham co-directs here with Jim LeBrecht, himself a former camper, who also appears in the doc. Cinematography is handled by a group consisting of Vicente Franco, Mario Furloni, Tom Kaufman, Justin Schein, and Jon Shenk. The score is composed by none other than Bear McCreary.
This documentary has personality to spare, making an important subject matter not just essential and inspiring, but often entertaining as well. The warmth exuding from these campers is palpable and immediately invests you in their stories. Not their disabilities, but their personalities and lives. It’s an excellent touch, to be sure. Kudos to Nicole Newnham for telling Jim LeBrecht and others’ stories, as well as LeBrecht himself for bringing it to the screen.
Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution is a doc that never makes its issue seem like an “issue.” Presenting the subjects and subject matter with such humanity pays major dividends and elevates it quite a bit. This is the sort of picture that would otherwise sadly fall through the cracks, so it’s wonderful that Barack and Michelle Obama have opted to put their weight, and the weight of Netflix behind it. The Obamas are quickly becoming a brand in non-fiction cinema, and this only furthers that distinction. The Academy could very well come calling once again for a production from Higher Ground. The quality is certainly there, so at the very least, consider it an early player for some awards attention.
Tomorrow, Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution drops on Netflix and is the rare movie that entertains as much as it informs. The streaming giant has the ability to get this documentary to the masses, and the fact that the Obamas have their name involved will only help things. It’s well worth checking out, will never feel like taking cinematic medicine, and will almost certainly leave you inspired. What more do you want non-fiction films to do? Make time for this and and you’ll be glad that you did…
Be sure to check out Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution, streaming tomorrow on Netflix!
(Photos courtesy of Netflix)