Guest Blog: Making A Nudist Documentary Film with YNA
Note from Jordan & Felicity: About two months ago, we were contacted by a film student from Pratt Institute. Her name was Dana, and as her final project for one of her classes, she wanted to make a short documentary about YNA / naturism.
We agreed to do it in exchange for her writing an article about her experience in making the film. So this is her story below, along with her documentary at the end!
Guest blog by: Dana Schlieman
Nudist Documentary – My first experience with documentary filmmaking presented an opportunity to force myself out of my comfort zone and explore something I had never done before. My preference has always been narrative, fiction film, and the assignment of a 5-10 minute documentary by my Non-Fiction Video professor made me queasy and sweaty with anxiety.
“Don’t make it about your roommate and how much they love pizza,” my professor implored the class.
I spent the next week wracking my brain for a subject that would be interesting to an audience but that was also manageable for someone with my level of expertise (which was low). Topics drifted in and out of my mind and my thoughts wandered on to other things, like what it must actually be like to be colorblind, and how my class might respond to the presence of nudity in a peer’s film. I froze in my bed as this thought crystallized into a project proposal: an exploration of modern nudists in New York and how they lived their lives within society.
The project quickly began to come together in my mind’s eye as I reached for my phone to begin my research. Suddenly I hit a wall. I found out that nudist resorts and beaches were closed down in late September, for the duration of the winter months. It was the middle of October now, and my idea fell apart as quickly as it had been built up. I backtracked, dejected and unenthused, to the topic of colorblindness and landed on this as the subject for my film. It was boring, but at least it wasn’t seasonal.
On proposal day in class, I decided to present the concept for my nudist film anyway, so that my professor could see that I was more interesting than my colorblind project suggested. I shared the idea with my class, along with the obstacles I had encountered, and explained why I would be unable to carry this project out. The whole class, who seemed to have tuned me out while I talked about colorblindness, suddenly pricked their ears as I told them my original idea. They stared at me for a few seconds when I was finished, and I stared back, my ears burning.
“You have to do that project,” my classmates told me, with more earnestness than I’d ever received from them. I looked to my professor for help, and he stared at me too. “It really does sound great,” he told me.
I argued with them for a while as they threw their suggestions at me. They insisted that there had to be a solution.
“Talk to the people who run a resort even if they’re not operating right now,” one classmate said. I asked her what I would film in that case other than the interviews.
“A film about nudism should really have nude people in it, shouldn’t it?” I asked them. We went back and forth like this for a while before my professor stopped us.
“Just think about it,” he told me. “The colorblind thing sounds fine.” I looked up at him hopefully. “But the nudism sounds really good.”
With that, I was done for. I had the choice to make an aesthetically pleasing film for an easy A that no one would care about, myself included, or I could try just a little bit harder and end up with something I might actually be proud of. I got online after class that day and buckled down. Finally, Google rewarded me with the Young Naturists America website.
Everything about YNA was so welcoming that I was immediately comfortable, and I am easily made uncomfortable in most situations. They talked about nudism and naturism the way I might tell someone my feelings for art and my pets. It was clear how dear their mission was to them, and how important it was to them to remove the stigma surrounding nudity, and I quickly found my own feelings about it–that it should be private and reserved for a few very specific situations–coming into question.
When Felicity and Jordan agreed to meet with me, I was extremely excited–at first. Soon I was plagued with a few very real concerns. For starters, I’m already quite nervous at the idea of talking to strangers (my parents had to order my food for me in restaurants until I was about 16). I worried that, in my ignorance of this subject that I was so new to, I would say or ask something accidentally offensive and they would hate me. I also worried that they would be too weird for me to deal with and I would have to back out of the commitment I was planning to make with them, another idea that gives me heart palpitations.
My fears were all for naught.
I walked out of my first meeting with Felicity and Jordan astounded at one simple fact: “They were so nice,” I told my friends when I got home. The pair had explained their no-judgment way of life to me, and I could tell they weren’t saying it the way other people say it; they really meant it. I sat on the subway on my way back from their apartment feeling more than a little shocked at how unaccustomed I am to people being so friendly and accommodating. I know I’m not like that, and I couldn’t think of a single reason why.
The day we filmed, I kept catching myself thinking: “This all seems so normal.” And then I gave myself a mental slap across the face and wondered, why shouldn’t it seem normal? I found my conversation with Jordan more stimulating than anything I had learned from my college professors in the past year-and-a-half, and with Felicity I felt like I was talking to a friend, one who just didn’t happen to be wearing clothes. And I think all three of us expected me to be uncomfortable, but I truly wasn’t.
Everyone I told about my project was extremely curious about it. Between October and December, I think the question I got asked the most was: “How is it going with the nudists?” It seemed that everyone expected some sort of scandal, for me to be taken captive and forced to join a naked cult or something. I was almost smug at how little dirt I had for them. I felt strangely loyal to the naturist community, like I was now a tiny part of the fight to shed light on the body image and censoring issues that my subjects had brought to my attention. The whole experience even got me working on my own body image issues and other personal stuff that I’ve never really thought about before.
And to anyone who still asks me, when talking about my project, “Wasn’t that really awkward?” all I can do is shrug and answer honestly: “No.”
If you’re wondering about the penis that shows on the screen within the documentary, it’s a joke commercial for a radio station in Australia and can be seen on vimeo channel here.
The vulva that also showed on the screen is a unique music video of singing vulvae and can be viewed on vimeo here.
My Experience Making A Nudist Documentary was published by – Young Naturists and Nudists America