Jim LeBrecht was born with spina bifida, a congenital disability of the spinal cord that prevented him from using his legs. When he was 14 years old, he attended a summer camp in New York known as the “laid back, free-spirited camp for youth with disabilities” called Camp Jened. This sparked LeBrecht’s lifelong career as a disability rights activist.
In the Variety Streaming Room moderated by the film award editor Clayton Davis, LeBrecht spoke about his documentary “Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution”, which he directed with Nicole Newnham. The two became friends while LeBrecht was working as a sound mixer for Newnham’s independent feature film “Sentenced Home” in 2006.
“In time, I’d say that the experience of being friends with Jim was like opening a portal into the world of disability,” Newnham said. “I started to see it in a way I hadn’t seen before. I didn’t see disability as a culture. I didn’t really get it as a community. Jim introduced me to rappers, dancers, artists, and all kinds of people in the disabled community who have really broadened my scope. “
One day at lunch LeBrecht Newnham said he would like to see a film about his summer camp: Camp Jened.
“The idea of combining a fun, fun and universal summer camp story with a really important movement story that people hadn’t heard of was super exciting,” said Newnham. “I think what I had to worry about was that the most important piece was actually Jim’s lived experience and the fact that this was his story. So I went back and said, “I really want to do this, but I think we should run it together.” And so it continues. “
Judy Heumann visited Camp Jened with LeBrecht and worked as a lawyer for the rights of the disabled. She pointed out how the civil rights movement exploded in the 50s and 60s but the disabled community was excluded from the movement. She said Crip Camp was an excellent way to express her frustrations, anger and acceptance of her discrimination.
“When you watch this film historically, people get a better sense of the progress we’ve made and the progress we’ve made today,” said Heumann. “At the same time, understand that this is not the end of the story, but really the beginning.