berkeleyside says it's not the end of the world (and i don't care?)
music friday: prince 9-11-2004

geezer cinema/film fatales #92: crip camp (james lebrecht, nicole newnham, 2020)

Crip Camp is a spirit-lifting documentary about disabled people, that takes a few interesting turns while remaining a fairly typical film of its type. It comes from Higher Ground, the production company started by the Obamas, who won an Oscar for their first film, American Factory. That movie was solid, but too set on taking the middle of the road. Crip Camp tells a more radical story, for the better.

The film seems harmlessly positive at first, showing us Camp Jened, near Woodstock both geographically and philosophically, in 1971. Camp Jened was a summer camp for people with disabilities that drew on the loose structure of the hippie community. While pleasant, I didn't see how the film makers would get 106 minutes out of the camp.

But they soon showed their intentions, by telling the stories of some of the camp goers later in their lives. And some of them became activists, and as their stories unfold, Crip Camp moves beyond the centrism of American Factory. The key figure is Judith Heumann, who went on to co-found the Disabled in Action organization. Later she moved to Berkeley and became a leader at the Center for Independent Living (about which more in a bit). In 1977, she led a sit-in which resulted in what later became the Americans with Disabilities Act. She also worked in the Clinton and Obama administrations.

When the film moves to Berkeley, things became quite familiar for my wife and I. The Center for Independent Living has long been a force in Berkeley life ... the first place we lived in Berkeley after we married was only a clock or two from the Center. We can remember the fight to put wheelchair curb ramps at street corners, something you take for granted after all these years. It was good to see the beginnings of those fights. Also, during the footage from the 70s and 80s, we kept recognizing people and places. Irrelevant to the value of the movie, but it made an impact on us.

We also learn near the end that another of the "stars" of the old Camp Jened footage, "Jimmy", was in fact James Lebrecht, the co-director of Crip Camp and the person who came up with the idea for the film.

A movie that simply documented the life at Camp Jened would have been nice, but by using those scenes as a starting point for a continuance of the story was a big improvement.

(Here is a letterboxd list of Film Fatales movies.)

(Letterboxd list of our Geezer Cinema movies.)


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