The saga of Camp Jened, the summer camp for disabled teens that took off in the early ’70s, has enough appeal to consume an entire movie: The annual Catskills event provided ostracized youth with the opportunity to experience a sense of normalcy, not to mention all the sex and drugs. However, while that gathering provides an appealing starting point for Crip Camp, it’s only the first chapter of a much longer journey. Directors Nicole Newnham and Jim LeBrecht’s inspiring look at the roots of the disability rights movement tracks several of those campers through the ages — including LeBrecht himself — as they mature into activists empowered by the prospects of finding their voice in an ambivalent society.
One of the largest figures that immerges from the camp is Judy Heumann: Notably Heumann sued for discrimination in New York after she was denied a license to teach and then became a leader in San Francisco in the 504 Sit-In of 1977, when activists demanded federal regulations guaranteeing civil rights for the disabled. (She also later served as a special adviser under President Barack Obama, who, along with Michelle Obama, is one of the film’s executive producers.) Throughout, Heumann becomes such an appealing centerpiece to Crip Camp that it’s a wonder why the movie doesn’t exclusively center of her storied career. Instead, it turns into more of a scattershot portrait, careening off in a few different directions that might have been better suited for a miniseries treatment.
But that’s not to say that any of these stirring dramas lack appeal on their own terms — like the story of Denise Sherer Jacobson, who confronted her cerebral palsy by discovering her sexuality, or all the terrific contemporaneous black-and-white footage that displays the campers freely speaking their minds — but Crip Camp often struggles to fuse together its multifaceted approach as the characters progress through life. Yet with that struggle, the filmmakers still avoid taking the sentimental nature of the story for granted. Building a result of rousing historical overview, doused in the nostalgia and the intimate experiences of the movement’s fiercest warriors. An odyssey of raucousness, setbacks, and smart strategizing, Crip Camp is a film that proves that some success stories only grow more powerful and inspiring with age.
Crip Camp is availble to stream on Netflix now
Plenty of homage and references to many great films are made in The Whistlers, a punchy, sometimes funny, chronologically nonlinear crime caper about a cop (Vlad Ivanov) who gets mixed up in a plot to bust a corrupt businessman out of prison with a group of criminals who sometimes speak in a whistling language. From Psycho to The Searchers those references vary in weight, but like the former, The Whistlers is full of twists and turns, with maybe the most shocking thing about the film being that its written and directed by Corneliu Porumboiu, the Romanian deconstructionist behind such films/exercises in intentional tedium as 12:08 East Of Bucharist and The Treasure.
Given that this is the guy who once ended his last bone-dry police procedural with an extended scene of someone literally reading aloud from the dictionary, it’s safe to say that I spent a lot of The Whistlers wondering when something would shift — when Porumboiu would subvert the convectional fun of his premise or at least make some sly political statement about Romania. But no, he never really deviates from the lean entertainment teased right from the jump, when Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger” plays over the opening credits. The closest the film comes to a genuine curveball is a kind of inside jokes for fans of the Romanian New Wave: the opportunity it affords Ivanov, who played the deeply creepy doctor in 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (among other roles as scumbags), to be the romantic lead in a genre picture. It’s pretty safe to call The Whistlers a major change of pace for director and star alike. While it doesn’t always fully live up to its hinted potential of larger deadpan absurdity, The Whistlers still finds energy, wit, and structural sophistication to make it a worthwhile caper.