I almost feel like a bad person for not loving this the way so many others seem to have loved it. It's far from terrible, and it has a very good message, while celebrating and humanising a group of people who deserve more recognition. But as a film, and as a story, it faltered in a few regards for me, and I think those flaws kept me from absolutely loving it.
I've discovered a good deal of extremely solid documentaries on Netflix lately, and was hoping my enthusiasm for Crip Camp would be similarly strong. Yet maybe I'm starting to notice a distinct formula to some of them. The editing style, the music, the pacing, and even the opening credits- so many aspects are starting to feel very similar. It's a side note, and maybe not worth bringing up right now, but it's interesting nevertheless.
The main problem with Crip Camp is the way in which its story is told, or more accurately, how its two stories are told. Because to me, this documentary combines two short documentaries into one; one is about a camp for disabled children in the 1970s, and the other is about a group of disability activists teaming together to get more rights for disabled people in America during the late 1970s to early 1980s. Even with some individuals in the camp being involved in this second part, I still didn't really feel a strong connection between the two stories. They try to drive it home in the film's epilogue, with a voiceover suggesting that the spirit of the camp drove them to fight for disabled rights later on in their lives, but I just didn't feel it. I got the sense I was being told this rather than shown it, and it made the early camp scenes feel a little pointless as a result.
Unfortunately, the scenes about taking on the government aren't a whole lot more interesting. The stock footage isn't too compelling, and doesn't convey much information. It comes down to the narration to tell the story again, but everything's structured in a flat, kind of uninteresting way. The basic story is interesting, and noteworthy, and important, but this whole chunk of the movie really just goes through the motions, reciting in a tedious manner what happened before reaching a decently emotional but very sudden conclusion where the filmmakers attempt to tie it all together. I just didn't buy it, and maybe that's more on me. But I can't help feeling like little effort was put into presenting this story in an interesting, engaging way.
It's a disappointment, but the efforts behind the film, the message, and the recognition of what these people did keeps it from being bad. It's just all quite narratively flat and dull to me. There's little in the way of emotional resonance too, besides the aforementioned moving epilogue (that nevertheless does clash with the rest of the film, in being quite suddenly and heavily sentimental). Give it a shot. Everyone else seems to really like it, and I might be one of the only naysayers. And even then, it's far from terrible. It doesn't say anything dangerous, it's not biased, and it does seem to come from respectful, genuine filmmakers. It's just a shame I didn't find it as engaging as I wanted or expected to.