Directors Jim LeBrecht and Nicole Newnham on their disability activism documentary ‘Crip Camp’

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Jim LeBrecht is co-director of the new Netflix documentary “Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution.” He’s also one of the film’s subjects. 

In the early 1970s, a then 15-year-old LeBrecht spent a summer at Camp Jened in upstate New York. For LeBrecht, who was born with spina bifida and uses a wheelchair, the experience at a hippie-run camp for disabled kids changed his life. And he wasn’t the only one. 

“Crip Camp” offers archival footage showing something that was rare for disabled teenagers: the freedom just to be kids. There was swimming, singing, and hooking up. 

The spirit of Camp Jened later lit a fire of disability activism, as a group of former campers found themselves living as young adults in and around Berkeley. 

It was there that former Jened camper and counselor Judy Heumann fought for the very first federal protections for people with disabilities, and led a 1977 sit-in at the San Francisco office of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare. The occupation lasted 28 days, and Heumann boldly faced off against members of the Carter administration who had been sent to quell the rebellion. 

Former camper LeBrecht co-directed “Crip Camp” with his friend Nicole Newhnam, an Emmy-winning documentary filmmaker. LeBrecht did the sound design for three of Newnham’s previous films. 

LeBrecht and Newnham tell us about the emotional Sundance premiere of “Crip Camp,” and how they ended up getting the help of Higher Ground, the production company founded by Barack and Michelle Obama. 

Before coronavirus changed everything , we were expecting to talk with LeBrecht and Newnham in person at KCRW. Instead, we spoke to them from a studio in Oakland, before the state instituted strict shelter-at-home rules. Even then, it was clear that the film’s rollout would be disrupted. They tell us they’ve had to cancel trips to film festivals abroad, but feel grateful that their movie will be on Netflix, where people around the world can watch from home. 




Kim Masters


Kaitlin Parker