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Sundance Film Festival

‘Crip Camp’ — executive produced by the Obamas — plays to a packed house on Sundance’s opening night

The film is an early front-runner for best documentary

PARK CITY, UTAH — Are the hottest new movie producers a former U.S. president and first lady?

Could be!

On Thursday night, perhaps the hottest premiere at the Sundance Film Festival was for Crip Camp, a documentary that is set to stream on Netflix later this year. The film looks at what was considered to be an unorthodox summer camp for disabled teens in the early 1970s. A group of disabled teens who met at the camp went on to become powerful voices in the disabled rights movement. The documentary’s release comes on the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The film is co-directed by Emmy winner Nicole Newnham and has a pair of executive producers whose names might sound familiar: Barack and Michelle Obama.

Co-directed by Emmy winner Nicole Newnham, Crip Camp documents Camp Jened, a summer camp for teens with disabilities near Woodstock in Rock Hill, New York.

Photo by George Pimentel/Getty Images

Many premieres at Sundance are jam-packed, but this one seemed exceptionally full. The film, which documents Camp Jened, a summer camp for teens with disabilities near Woodstock in Rock Hill, New York, opened the festival after a five-year production process. Many ticket holders were turned away after being told by volunteers that the theater truly was at capacity, with every seat was accounted for.

All this, even with competition from one of the world’s biggest pop stars of all time (a Taylor Swift documentary also premiered later Thursday night)? Yep. That’s right.

There was some speculation that the former first couple would be in attendance, considering that the long lines inside of the tent where ticket holders stand before gaining entry didn’t move until after the premiere was scheduled to start. Was the cause of the delay some sort of extra security? (It wasn’t. Apparently VIPs were able to pass ticket holders in line, speaking to the film’s buzz and anticipation.)

The Obamas weren’t there. But the buzz was real. Good thing the film was well-received. It earned a double standing ovation at the end of its showing.

And it was a good indicator for the Obamas’ second act as content producers. This film started production just as President Obama was ending his second term. The Obamas’ deal with Netflix was announced in April 2019, and shortly thereafter the Obamas teamed up with Newnham and co-director Jim LeBrecht. LeBrecht, who was born with spina bifida, serves on the board of the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund and attended the camp as a teen.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, Crip Camp was sold to Netflix/Higher Ground (the Obamas’ company) in the low seven-figure range.

Will the film be a big winner this week? We’ll find out if it takes home a documentary prize by the end of the fest. If that happens, it could well be an Oscar front-runner in 2021.

Kelley L. Carter is a senior entertainment reporter and the host of Another Act at Andscape. She can act out every episode of the U.S. version of The Office, she can and will sing the Michigan State University fight song on command and she is very much immune to Hollywood hotness.