Berkeley Journalism alums on “Crip Camp” team shortlisted for Best Feature Documentary at Academy Awards

February 11, 2021


The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has announced shortlists in nine categories for the 93rd Academy Awards. In this most prized of lists is “Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution,” competing for Best Documentary Feature. 

“Crip Camp,” which premiered on Netflix, is about a groundbreaking summer camp in the Catskills in the 1970s—”a place with summertime sports, smoking and make-out sessions awaiting everyone” that galvanized a group of teens facing a future shaped by isolation, discrimination and institutionalization who used their full inclusion at the “freewheeling Utopia” to later launch a national disability rights movement from Berkeley.

“Crip Camp” was co-directed by Nicole Newnham and acclaimed Bay Area mixer and sound designer Jim LeBrecht and executive produced by former President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama through Higher Ground Productions. The film premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award. “Crip Camp” continues to garner accolades including a 2021 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award, the Pulitzers of broadcasting, the best feature award at the 2021 IDA Documentary Awards, and screen around the world.

Eight Berkeley Journalism alums received credit on the film. Lauren Schwartzman (’18) was the associate producer and assistant editor. Award-winning Brazilian filmmaker and cinematographer Mario Furloni (‘11) and Zach Stauffer (‘08), director of Who Killed Lt. Van Dorn,” provided additional cinematography. Others contributing included Mary Newman (‘18), who provided additional production support, and Spencer Silva (‘18), Liliana Michelena (‘18), Emma Schwartz (‘19) and Brian Krans (‘18) who had a hand in fact-checking.

Lauren Schwartzman (right) pictured with co-directors Nicole Newnham and Jim LeBrecht at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.

Schwartzman joined the production shortly after graduating following the success of her visually lyrical thesis film, “Dust Rising,”— exploring the vast power mere dust can have over everything from human health to the planet’s climate and the growing phenomenon of deadly dust storms in the American Southwest— that won a Student Academy Award in 2018, was shortlisted for the BAFTA Student Film Awards, and screened in festivals across the U.S. 

“This recognition from the Academy means so much not only to the filmmakers of “Crip Camp,” but to the people whose stories are told in the film,” said Schwartzman. “We’re so glad they are finally getting the visibility they deserve. This nod from the Academy means more people will continue to see the film, which has always been the “Crip Camp” team’s most important goal.”

“Documentaries have historically held such extraordinary potential to impact society and “Crip Camp” is no exception,” Jennifer Redfearn, director of the documentary program said. “It’s such an honor to see so many graduates of our program in the credits of this film that amplifies vital narratives in the disability rights and disability justice communities.” 

“What wonderful news to hear that the Academy is recognizing this film that shows so clearly how civil disobedience and political participation can change the lives of millions of people,” Geeta Anand, dean of Berkeley Journalism said. “We couldn’t be more proud of Lauren, Mario and all of the alums who contributed to the making of this important and uplifting film.”

Melina Tupa (’16) and Jim LeBrecht mixing her thesis documentary “The Search” in 2016. It would become a finalist in the Student Academy Awards.

In addition to the alumni connection to the film, said Christopher O’Dea, Berkeley Journalism’s director of production, the School has had a close creative relationship with Jim LeBrecht’s Berkeley Sound Artists (now IMRSV Sound) where final audio mixing on students’ thesis films has been done since 2013. “Our students have had wonderful, professional experiences working closely with Jim and his associates overseeing the sound for their films. It is so great to see his first film as a director honored so widely.”

The 93rd Oscars will be held on Sunday, April 25, 2021, and will be televised live on ABC and in more than 225 countries and territories worldwide.

-Marlena Telvick

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