Crip Camp

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Judy Heumann. The mere mention of her name sends shivers down the spines of all who look to cut corners at the expense of denying the disabled community equal access. A former employer cursed her name when told he would have to shell out thousands to build a lift stage-right at the head of an auditorium to accommodate guest speakers in wheelchairs, if and when the occasion arose. Heumann is still at it, and if nothing else, the history of her contributions to the creation of the Americans With Disabilities Act alone make this a must-see. But before that, let’s spend a summer at overnight camp. It started in the 1950’s, a time when the disabled had no place in public schools; their inability to walk made them fire hazards. We first catch up with Camp Jened in 1973: a haven for the physically and intellectually challenged located down the road apiece from Woodstock. (Don’t for a second think that music didn’t play an almost equally important role in its history.) For a group of teenagers used to living life on the sidelines, Camp Jened was a place where the outside world didn’t exist and no one had to pretend. Thanks to the miracle of half-inch videotape, we are able to relive a very special moment in history: the dawn of another kind of civil rights movement. What holds these characters (and the movie) together is a pitch-black sensibility when it comes to humor. (They didn’t call it Crip Camp for nothing.) Would you believe a hierarchy of disability? Future activists Neil and Denise Sherer Jacobson meet at camp. Denise has cerebral palsy, and when the couple decide to wed, Neil’s mother asks, “I understand why you want to marry a handicapped girl, but why can’t you find one with polio?” The camp empowered all who participated, so that the return to reality wasn’t quite as difficult as once again, the participants were forced to conform to a world that wasn’t designed for them. The camp’s lifespan was 26 years, just four years shy of the 30 years it took for the passage of a law to change public acceptance. Sound artist, star, and Crip Camp alum James Lebrecht and filmmaker Nicole Newnham — they first collaborated on the chilling historical doc The Rape of Europa — share director’s credit. (2020) — Scott Marks

Rated R | 1 hour, 46 minutes
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