Documentaries succeed when they not only inform us about something we otherwise wouldn’t have known but when they move us like narratives. Perhaps nothing is more moving than real-life phenomenons and Netflix’s new documentary “Crip Camp '' utilizes such a notion. Produced by Barack and Michelle Obama, “Crip Camp” tells the story of a camp for disabled children in upstate New York and how that camp inspired several disabled individuals to become leaders in the disability rights movement.
Encompassing children afflicted with a wide range of disabilities, Camp Jened began in 1951 and strived to make these kids feel free,equal and unburdened by the forms of discirmiantion they faced in society on a daily basis. Led uniquely by a group of hippies, not only did the camp make these kids feel liberated, it allowed them to form life-long friendships and instilled a set of values that later transferred into their lives as disability rights activists.
“Crip Camp” does a marvelous job of not only explaining what happened at the camp and how the disability rights movement formed but of actually showing it. Stunning archival footage of the life at Camp Jened, the protests that took place for disability rights, and past interviews not only allow us to understand the context for the content but allow us to feel something for those involved. Each piece of footage is shaped beautifully in between present-day interviews that make the film flow neatly and complement the storytelling.
Moving interviews with former campers and activists add a historical element to the documentary, shaping those featured as real-life characters who we form a connection with as opposed to just people teaching us things about what happened at a specific point in time. So many documentaries fail at not just being interesting and insightful, but for actually making us care about the people featured. “Crip Camp” hits hard, not afraid to depict the horrific mental institutions conditions that people with disabilities face, nor are they afraid to move us with beautiful stories of friendship.
While the film focuses primarily on the activism that lead to the Americans With Disabilities Act rather than Camp Jener itself, there’s a profound sweetness formed at the beginning of the documentary that allows us to understand just how important this camp was to so many people and how it inspired one of the most important civil rights movements in American history.
“Crip Camp” invites us into the lives of driven individuals who formed a civil rights movement that changed our society and the film warms your spirit from start to finish. It’s an important documentary that shines a light on Americans who are mostly unknown to the general public and who created a movement that sadly doesn’t get the proper recognition it deserves while simultaneously lifting your spirits and moving you to your core.
Final Grade: A-
Dominic LeRose is a writer for The Daily Cardinal. To read more of his work, click here.