The Documentary takes it's title from an insensitive nickname for Camp Jened, a summer camp for the disabled, founded in 1951. The Doc focuses on a group of attendees in the summer of 1971 (which included filmmaker James LeBrecht, who co-Directs with Nicole Newnham). At the time, Jened was being run by self-described hippies. One of the interviewees describes the place as their Woodstock which had been held nearby just a couple of summers prior (there's even a sequence when the camp counselors lead a sing-a-long of the Grateful Dead's 'What A Long Strange Trip It's Been'). That younger generation is known for advocating for civil rights, women's rights and gay rights but a lesser known movement was the early stages of rights for the disabled. A good number of the campers not only became friends, but, also became players in the disability rights movements, in particular, the indefatigable Judith Heumann.
Heumann, LeBrecht and Camp Jened members participated in the protests that led to the 1973 Rehabilitation Act (signed by Nixon, but not enforced), the 1977 San Francisco sit-ins that forced Secretary Joseph Califano into finally putting teeth into the act), suffered through Ronald Reagan's budget axe and eventually, the landmark 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act signed by Bush, Sr..
This second and longer section of the Documentary is very well done and certainly heartfelt, but, the opening section at Camp Jened is the heart and soul of the movie. Fortunately, a group called the People's Video Theater documented the camp in 1971 on 1/2 inch Videotape - and, even more miraculously, the tapes survived. What those tapes reveal are the campers in all their unguarded glory. The laughter, the tears and, for many of them, their first sexual experiences (an outbreak of the crabs is squeamishly detailed). The legislation was long overdue and important, but CRIP CAMP is more about just showing the individuals as people. LeBrecht and Newnham let everybody speak for themselves,no matter how halting their speech. It's never edited for time. They are just being themselves in front of the camera. The footage during the S.F. sit-in also needs special mention of local TV reporter Evan White who literally embedded with the protesters.
CRIP CAMP falls into the 'advocacy documentary' category (few warts are discussed), but what elevates it is the way in which the viewer is invited to participate with the Camp Jened campers. It shows in it's own way why it's very title is both a reminder of the past, but also that there is still work to do to eliminate it's "insensitive" moniker.
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