How Disability Doc ‘Crip Camp’ Won Over Netflix, the Obamas and Sundance

by Mia Galuppo: For More Info, Go Here…

Co-directors Jim LeBrecht and Nicole Newnham hope that their feature, which is opening the Park City fest, can do for the disability rights movement what 1984’s ‘The Times of Harvey Milk’ did for the public understanding of gay rights.

After months of expectation, in April 2019, Barack and Michelle Obama announced the first TV and film projects for their Netflix-based banner Higher Ground Productions. The expansive slate included splashy projects like an adaptation of Pulitzer-winning novel Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom, a period drama from Oscar winner Callie Khouri titled Bloom, and an anthology series based on a New York Times’ obituary column, Overlooked. Tucked at the end of the highly anticipated list of titles was the news that Higher Ground had acquired a still in-production and little known documentary: Crip Camp.

Due to a confluence of Hollywood factors — from the streaming wars to the current “Golden Age” of documentaries — after a five-year-long production process, Crip Camp will now open this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

LeBrecht, an award-winning feature and theatrical sound designer and mixer, has worked for decades with Bay Area-based doc filmmakers, including on three features from Emmy-winning doc producer and director, Newnham. For several years, LeBrecht, who was born with spina bifida and serves on the board of the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, had been attempting to convince his most frequent collaborators to tackle a documentary that focuses on disability and the disability rights movement.

“I worked on all of these incredible films that were really making an impact on the world, and there were still very few documentaries that were about disability,” he says.

LeBrecht told Newnham about Camp Jened, a summer camp for teens with disabilities near Woodstock in Rock Hill, New York. LeBrecht grew up in nearby Westchester County and attended the camp in the early 70s, alongside fellow campers and counselors that would soon become leaders in the disability civil rights movement of the late 1970s and the activist heading historic protests, all of which would eventually lead to the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act. Luckily, Jened alumni and former counselors had a Facebook page.

“I was seeing people with disabilities pictured in a way I had never seen before. There was this punk attitude — like kids flipping off the camera,” says Newnham of the images that were splayed across the social media page. While the photographs painted an introductory picture to life at camp, the filmmaker knew they couldn’t fill a feature with snapshots. “We still had this question: ‘How are we going to show the camp?’”

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