My grandparents met at a nudist club. I got naked to learn more about their lifestyle
Danny Berish bares all in the documentary Nude to Me, now streaming on CBC Gem.
In the 20-minute documentary Nude to Me, Danny Berish visits Van Tan, Canada's oldest naturist club, in a quest to understand what his grandparents loved about their "radical lifestyle."
Danny Berish's grandmother found love at a nudist camp in Quebec in 1949.
She met Danny's grandfather at her very first visit. He greeted her, gave her two towels and showed her to her bunk. "I just liked him," she said.
The rest, as they say, is history. If not for naturism, Danny wouldn't exist.
In 2020, Danny set out on a journey to learn more about his grandparents' radical lifestyle.
In the CBC Short Doc Nude to Me, Danny meets and mingles with the members of Van Tan, Canada's oldest nudist club, in Vancouver. He learns about the history of the club, the philosophy and etiquette of naturism and the club's quest to attract new naked members. It's a fascinating plunge in naturism — and a personal journey to find out what's so special about the naturist lifestyle.
In this interview, Berish explains how he discovered his grandparents' love story, what it was like to get naked in front of the camera and his newfound appreciation for nudity.
Interview has been edited for length.
CBC Docs: How did you find out that your grandparents met at a naturist club?
Danny Berish: I'd heard rumblings and rumours about my grandparents being nudists over the years, but it's not something that ever came up naturally in conversation if you know what I mean….
My grandmother's health was deteriorating, and as a filmmaker, I wanted [to find] a way to document her life.
And to my surprise, it was during a tape-recorded phone call that I discovered she had, in fact, been engaged [to someone else] and then met my grandfather at a nudist club. You can't make that up!
Do you know what made them join the club? And what they enjoyed about it?
There are many reasons behind the rise of naturist clubs in the '40s and '50s. Some say it was a rebellious response to strict ideologies spurred on by conservative McCarthyists hunting down socialists...but the truth is, I have no idea why she joined.
All I know is: my grandmother's father said she couldn't go [to the club]. So she went.
My grandmother was a spirited, independent bon vivant and I think the free-thinking, radical naturist movement is where my grandparents felt right at home. They were the original hipsters.
What made you decide to tell this story now?
First of all, when the idea floated around that I should star in a personal documentary about my nudist grandparents, I went running for the hills! Naked? In front of my colleagues and peers?
"It'll be fun," they said.
"Thanks, but no thanks!" I said.
But as our team (producer Erin Mussolum and producer/director of photography Ryan Mah) began to shape the story as a way to celebrate the genuine love my grandparents shared for each other, I began to warm up to the idea.
Also, it was the summer of 2020 and the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. What better place to shoot a doc than outdoors and six feet apart at a secluded naturist club?
So in a quest to learn more about your grandparents' nudist lifestyle, you started to spend time at the Van Tan Club, Canada's oldest naturist club — conveniently located in Vancouver, where you live. What was your first visit to the Van Tan club like?
It was unforgettable.
We had no idea what to expect. Just getting up to the club is an adventure. We were met at the base of Mount Fromme by the club's PR representative and chaperoned up a bumpy logging road, surrounded by lush old-growth Douglas fir trees and thrill-seeking mountain bikers.
When we arrived at Van Tan, the crew and I were amazed to find a hidden secret garden. The club is beautiful, like a rustic Scandinavian spa high above the mountains.
We kept our clothes on as we met naked strangers. It was a bit surreal and I've never maintained so much direct eye contact with people before.
We spoke for a while, laid out our intentions for the film and had a quick tour of the club before returning to the parking lot below.
Visit a nudist club; check that one off the list!
How did the club members respond to you and your crew?
Everyone we met was warm and welcoming.
The only apprehension from club members was how we were going to share their story. Nudists are sometimes not presented in the best light in the media; there's still a lot of stigma around nudism in general.
Members had been burned before. They'd been misrepresented by other film crews.
Sharing my own personal connection to the naturism movement and reassuring them we were there to tell an authentic story was the first step toward building trust.
The film really only had one goal: let's make nudism normal.
How did you build trust with the club members? Were they apprehensive about appearing on camera?
Nudists aren't shy by nature, especially up at the Van Tan Club. My own personal connection to naturism was a great icebreaker, but in order to really gain the club members' trust, we were going to have to walk the walk.
I thought of the great documentarians of our time, immersing themselves into remote cultures to capture a story. Like Jane Goodall — we were going to have to commit.
And with that, Ryan Mah (my producing partner of seven years) and I stripped down behind a Toyota Prius in the parking lot to film our first interview.
It's true! We see you naked in the documentary! Was your crew naked as well? What was that like?
There is only one way to describe making a documentary with your closest working collaborators in the nude: ultimate team bonding.
There is only one way to describe making a documentary with your closest working collaborators in the nude: ultimate team bonding.- Danny Berish, Director, Nude to Me
The behind-the-scenes pics alone were worth the experience. It was awkward at first, but after the first five minutes, it was business as usual.
What was the biggest surprise/most interesting thing you learned while making this doc?
I think the most interesting thing I learned while making this doc is that everyone has an opinion about nudity.
Whether you're strongly for or against naturism, it's a great conversation starter. So yes, Nude to Me is a fun and light-hearted film, but if it can spark dialogue, that's a success in my eyes.
After spending the summer visiting Van Tan, I am more comfortable in my body than ever before.
Being physically vulnerable on camera is one thing, but being emotionally vulnerable was something entirely different. So, as a filmmaker, I now have a newfound respect for every person I've ever put in the hot seat. It's not easy.