‘Crip Camp’ Sundance review: Disabled rights doc grabs your heart

PARK CITY, Utah — Many teens over the years have boarded the bus home from summer camp teary-eyed and already counting down the days ’til they return to their seasonal friends. But never have any had as good a reason to be sad as the kids of “Crip Camp.”

The documentary, which opened the Sundance Film Festival Thursday, tells the story of a group of disabled youngsters who, in the early 1970s, escaped to a Catskills refuge meant just for them.

Called Camp Jened, it was “a summer camp for the handicapped run by hippies,” co-director and then-attendee Jim LeBrecht says in the doc. Adds fellow camper Denise Jacobson: “It was a utopia.”

This film, co-directed by Nicole Newnham, certainly proves it. In 1971, a group of cameramen from the People’s Video Theater visited Jened — in Hunter, NY — to capture the unique energy of the place, which was home for people with many disabilities, including cerebral palsy, spina bifida and Down syndrome.

Their footage used here is remarkably intimate and colorful, with the kids being totally forthcoming and easily sharing their talents and their joy. There’s a distinctly ‘70s spirit when the youngsters make Beatles-like music together with acoustic guitars and turn a metal folding chair into a drum. Totally present. No smartphones.

And all the campers are a scream. In a present-day interview, Neil Jacobson, who has cerebral palsy, admits a counselor gave him his first “kissing lesson.”

“That was one of the best physical therapies I ever had,” he says.

But just when you think you’ve got a handle on the film as a kind-hearted time capsule of a forgotten haven for the disabled, “Crip Camp” turns much grander and even more inspiring.

We learn that many of the kids who spent their summers at Camp Jened later became politically active in New York, San Francisco and Washington, DC, fighting for disabled rights. The film’s breakout star Judy Heumann — as formidable a public speaker as you’ll ever see — forms the group Disabled In Action in NYC, and shuts down a major avenue in protest of the city’s lack of elevators in subway stations.

We also watch a 25-day sit-in that Heumann, some Jened campers and more than 100 other activists stage at the San Francisco Department of Health, Education and Welfare in 1977 to push then-President Jimmy Carter’s secretary of health to enforce needed regulations. That brave act of peaceful rebellion helped lead to the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act 13 years later.

The last few years at Sundance have been all about documentaries, with “Leaving Neverland” and “Knock Down the House” premiering here in 2019. But too often these days, docs get overly focused on exposing evil and shocking us with dropped bombs. So it’s as refreshing as the mountain air to see a sublime movie like “Crip Camp” so warmly shine a light on the best of humanity.

Denise Jacobson appears in <i>Crip Camp</i> by Nicole Newnham and Jim LeBrecht, an official selection of the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.” width=”662″ height=”441″ data-srcset=”https://thenypost.files.wordpress.com/2020/01/crip-camp-review-sundance-2.jpg?quality=90&strip=all&w=300 300w, https://thenypost.files.wordpress.com/2020/01/crip-camp-review-sundance-2.jpg?quality=90&strip=all&w=640 640w, https://thenypost.files.wordpress.com/2020/01/crip-camp-review-sundance-2.jpg?quality=90&strip=all&w=1280 1280w, https://thenypost.files.wordpress.com/2020/01/crip-camp-review-sundance-2.jpg?quality=90&strip=all&w=662 662w, https://thenypost.files.wordpress.com/2020/01/crip-camp-review-sundance-2.jpg?quality=90&strip=all&w=1324 1324w” data-sizes=”(max-width: 640px) 100vw, 662px”/></a><figcaption class=Denise Jacobson (center) in “Crip Camp,” an official selection of the documentary competition at the Sundance Film FestivalCourtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Patti Smolian.
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‘Crip Camp’ Sundance review: Disabled rights doc grabs your heart

PARK CITY, Utah — Many teens over the years have boarded the bus home from summer camp teary-eyed and already counting down the days ’til they return to their seasonal friends. But never have any had as good a reason to be sad as the kids of “Crip Camp.”

The documentary, which opened the Sundance Film Festival Thursday, tells the story of a group of disabled youngsters who, in the early 1970s, escaped to a Catskills refuge meant just for them.

Called Camp Jened, it was “a summer camp for the handicapped run by hippies,” co-director and then-attendee Jim LeBrecht says in the doc. Adds fellow camper Denise Jacobson: “It was a utopia.”

This film, co-directed by Nicole Newnham, certainly proves it. In 1971, a group of cameramen from the People’s Video Theater visited Jened — in Hunter, NY — to capture the unique energy of the place, which was home for people with many disabilities, including cerebral palsy, spina bifida and Down syndrome.

Their footage used here is remarkably intimate and colorful, with the kids being totally forthcoming and easily sharing their talents and their joy. There’s a distinctly ‘70s spirit when the youngsters make Beatles-like music together with acoustic guitars and turn a metal folding chair into a drum. Totally present. No smartphones.

And all the campers are a scream. In a present-day interview, Neil Jacobson, who has cerebral palsy, admits a counselor gave him his first “kissing lesson.”

“That was one of the best physical therapies I ever had,” he says.

But just when you think you’ve got a handle on the film as a kind-hearted time capsule of a forgotten haven for the disabled, “Crip Camp” turns much grander and even more inspiring.

We learn that many of the kids who spent their summers at Camp Jened later became politically active in New York, San Francisco and Washington, DC, fighting for disabled rights. The film’s breakout star Judy Heumann — as formidable a public speaker as you’ll ever see — forms the group Disabled In Action in NYC, and shuts down a major avenue in protest of the city’s lack of elevators in subway stations.

We also watch a 25-day sit-in that Heumann, some Jened campers and more than 100 other activists stage at the San Francisco Department of Health, Education and Welfare in 1977 to push then-President Jimmy Carter’s secretary of health to enforce needed regulations. That brave act of peaceful rebellion helped lead to the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act 13 years later.

The last few years at Sundance have been all about documentaries, with “Leaving Neverland” and “Knock Down the House” premiering here in 2019. But too often these days, docs get overly focused on exposing evil and shocking us with dropped bombs. So it’s as refreshing as the mountain air to see a sublime movie like “Crip Camp” so warmly shine a light on the best of humanity.

Denise Jacobson appears in <i>Crip Camp</i> by Nicole Newnham and Jim LeBrecht, an official selection of the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.” width=”662″ height=”441″ data-srcset=”https://thenypost.files.wordpress.com/2020/01/crip-camp-review-sundance-2.jpg?quality=90&strip=all&w=300 300w, https://thenypost.files.wordpress.com/2020/01/crip-camp-review-sundance-2.jpg?quality=90&strip=all&w=640 640w, https://thenypost.files.wordpress.com/2020/01/crip-camp-review-sundance-2.jpg?quality=90&strip=all&w=1280 1280w, https://thenypost.files.wordpress.com/2020/01/crip-camp-review-sundance-2.jpg?quality=90&strip=all&w=662 662w, https://thenypost.files.wordpress.com/2020/01/crip-camp-review-sundance-2.jpg?quality=90&strip=all&w=1324 1324w” data-sizes=”(max-width: 640px) 100vw, 662px”/></a><figcaption class=Denise Jacobson (center) in “Crip Camp,” an official selection of the documentary competition at the Sundance Film FestivalCourtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Patti Smolian.
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