Listen, do you want to know a secret?

“All non-alien lifeforms must keep their protective suits on at all times. Anyone found to be violating this will be severely punished. I repeat, you must keep your protective suits on at all times!”

Standing outside of an anonymous warehouse in East London, on a crisp Halloween evening, a Sigourney Weaver look-a-like shouted these instructions–in a suspiciously inauthentic American accent–to a swarm of ‘new recruits.’

A beat-up army vehicle circled the block, on the hunt for abnormal lifeforms. Men in red overalls checked our documents, supplying us with one-size-fits-most, disposable, white paper painter suits once our status was cleared.

Anxiously, with a buzz of excitement in the air, we awaited to enter the decontamination chamber and begin our mission.

This was to be one of the most unusual and amazing Halloween nights that I would ever experience, and my first Halloween outside of the United States. This was Secret Cinema: an enigmatic event in which you buy a ticket in advance, but the film and location is not revealed until the day of.

The film was 1979’s “Alien”, a cult classic not traditionally viewed of as a Halloween movie, but the interactive experience surrounding the viewing of this film resulted in a uniquely London way of celebrating the holiday.

In the United States, celebrating Halloween is nearly as important as celebrating Christmas. In the weeks leading up to the holiday, shops are awash with tacky decorations–fake cobwebs, skeletons, and pumpkins.

As the leaves start changing from bright green to burnished oranges and fiery yellows, conversations often turn to, “So what are you doing for Halloween? What are you dressing up as?”

Not doing anything special for Halloween is seen as unusual.

Coming to London, I had no idea how widely the holiday would be celebrated, or if it would even be celebrated at all.

Although the traditional elements of Halloween that I grew up with were not present–carving pumpkins, eating frightening amounts of sugar, and going to haunted houses–the Secret Cinema experience turned out to be an exciting alternative; serving both as a reminder of home and as a glimpse into the cultural microcosm of London.

Sigourney Weaver’s doppleganger
actress

New Recruits
new recruits

Hunting for aliens
truck

Decontamination Chamber
decontamination

Never mess with an alien
head

Inside ‘Mother’
mother

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Cosplay: Anime Comes To Life

For many people, Halloween is the one day a year to have an excuse to dress up in crazy costumes. For others, creating and wearing costumes is a significant part of their lives.

Two years ago, three friends and I made a documentary exploring the topic of cosplaying. This was for a Documentary Production course at USF.

The term ‘cosplaying’ is a combination of ‘costume’ and ‘play’, and refers to people who create costumes and dress up as their favorite animated characters.

This hobby is especially popular in Japan, but it has recently become a subculture in its own right in the United States.

Before making this documentary, I didn’t have a good understanding on why people would want to do this as a hobby. Why would you want to constantly portray fictional characters, rather than just being yourself?

After interviewing a sampling of American cosplayers, I found out that it’s a way to hone their creative skills. Not only that, but it’s a way to gather with like-minded people and form communities of friends from all over the world.

Creative Cosplayers

With this documentary, I really wanted to get to the heart of why people devoted so much time, energy, and money to this hobby.

Cosplayers often get a bad reputation as being ‘geeky’ or ‘weird.’ I’ll admit that I had that impression before I actually met the people who do it.

I think that Kathryn Harper, one of our interviewees, summed it up best: “It’s setting myself free to be who I want to be.”

People have so many different sides to their personalities, and there are a countless number of characters you can dress up as to reflect certain aspects.

Most cosplayers also make their own costumes, so it’s a hobby that allows your crafty side to thrive.

I can’t say that I’ll be cosplaying anytime soon, but I can say that doing this documentary gave me a great amount of insight and respect for this subculture. Plus, they probably have the best Halloween costumes…

Anime Comes To Life on Current TV

If you’re curious about cosplaying, check out our documentary, “Anime Comes to Life.” It first appeared on Current TV in November 2008 (our first paid documentary!).

Check it out here or below:

Yeah Yeah Yeah La La La

Wednesday, aka ‘hump day’: so close to the weekend that you can almost taste it, but far enough away that you still have to find something to help you jump over the hurdle. This week, that special something was a Calvin Harris gig at HMV Forum.

Luis and I fought the throngs of commuters heading home after a long day of working in the city, making it to the venue just in time to find out that the show was sold out. Damn. Luckily, there were super scalpers (the most honorable members of society, dontchaknow) to the rescue!

First scalper: 35 pounds a pop (you can do better). And giving up was not an option for us–let us trudge forward, my comrade! Together we will achieve greatness! Victory will be ours!

After a nourishing pre-gig meal of kebab and chips, we approached a second scalper and haggled the price down to 25. Still steep, but it was either that or go home. Funnily enough, the reason the show was sold out in the first place was probably, in part, because of scalpers. Scumbags. Nevertheless, we were ready to enjoy the gig.

Pulsating lights, spanning across the color spectrum–beams of acrid greens, vibrant fuchsias, brilliant whites, twinkling like the aftermath of a star explosion–like a form of extraterrestrial communication with the electronic-twinged music. Center-stage: an enormous backdrop of our fearless leader’s head, as if he was the totalitarian leader, and we were his dutiful citizens.

Clap your hands? Each person clapped more vigorously than the next. Jump? We were spring-loaded, punching our fists in the air. Dance? We shimmied to the groove, unrestricted, insecurities magically disappearing: dancing for a common cause.

At once, feeling completely in your own world, but also making up a small portion of a sweaty, pulsating mass cross-section of society. Teenagers testing their rebellious sides, by sneaking sips of cider. Cougars, dressed in clothing that would have been more acceptable in the 80s, clutching at straws to hold onto their youth, hoping the lighting was favorable enough to catch the eye of a guy 20 years younger. Drunken guys, slurring along to the song they heard on a Coke advert (“Wicked choon, innit?!”). Flimsy plastic cups of beer sacrificing their lives for the cause, splattering tragically on cheap, generic shoes (thank God they only cost 1.50).

Then, the pivotal moment: the first few familiar, synthesized notes of my favorite song by Calvin Harris, ‘The Girls.’ “I like those mixed race girls” (hey, that’s me!) Pure, shallow fun, with no room for pretension. Anyone not dancing and singing along would have to fight off a neon-clad mob of his most dutiful citizens.

When it’s all over, we beg for more. A few teasing minutes of nothingness, and then our vigilance is rewarded with two more songs. In the end, we emerge from the battlefield sweaty, fatigued, and slightly deaf, but still buzzing from the adrenaline rush (or did they put something in the kebabs?).

Time to catch the tube home, ears ringing, legs more tired than after an intense Batuka session, but with a surge of endorphins flowing through my body.

Rather smugly, I smiled to myself for having just experienced the most glorious, natural high that is uniquely intrinsic with going to a gig–a feeling that no amount of pill-popping or powder-snorting fools could ever hope to mimic.Ready For The Weekend? Yes!

Secret Cinema

It’s officially autumn, which means one thing: Halloween is coming up! I’ve always loved Halloween–well, minus the ‘welfare’ year when my mom made me a ghost costume using an old, ratty sheet and a pair of scissors to cut out jagged eye holes (which I was subsequently teased for at school)…and the year that one old man gave us peeled, hard boiled eggs and a handful of chocolate chips for ‘treats’…But other than that, crazy costumes, shenanigans, and candy? Yes, please!

Before coming to London, I wasn’t sure if the holiday was celebrated widely over here. Turns out, it is. Time Out (a.k.a my bible for all things interesting happening in London) has a great listing of different activities that are happening for Halloween. Many choices, but this year, I will be spending Halloween at London’s own ‘Secret Cinema.’ Essentially, Secret Cinema is an organization that periodically puts on cinema viewings around London. The catch? The location and movie changes every time, and you don’t know what movie you’re going to watch until you get there. So naturally, a few of my friends and I purchased tickets. At this point, I still have no clue at all what movie they’re going to show, or where it’s going to be–although I assume that we’ll find out the location shortly, as tickets have been purchased! All I know is that we will definitely be dressing up and ready to have a good time!

For those of you who celebrate Halloween, what were your favorite costumes? What will you be going as this year? I’m either doing some sort of parrot-inspired costume, or an innocent bystander being attacked by birds, a la Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film, “The Birds.”

And, just for kicks, here’s a photo from Halloween a couple of years ago. I’m a mod zombie, and my friend Steena is a Mexican farmer!

we're not racist

Happy Halloween!

Flaneur-ing=Fun!

Throughout my four (and a half…*ahem*) years studying Media Studies at University of San Francisco, the term ‘flâneur’ would often pop up in lectures. I remember first hearing the term–originally coined by French critic/poet, Charles Baudelaire, in the 19th century–in Professor Andrew Goodwin’s course, The Popular Arts.

For those of you who don’t speak French (I don’t!), ‘flâneur’ essentially means “a person who walks the city in order to experience it.” I can say, without hesitation, that living in London has turned me into a flâneuring fiend!

My first day back here (was it really almost a month ago already??), after recovering from jet lag, I found myself wandering aimlessly around central London, just to reacquaint myself with the city. Rather than feeling isolated, or overwhelmed about the big move, I found myself taking everything in and enjoying the amusing and iconic sights I came across on the South Bank:

A tower made completely out of cardboard paper rolls
cardboard tower

Our future ruler
robot dude

St. Paul’s Cathedral
st. paul's
(hey, is that a fellow flaneur in the foreground?)

Big Ben/Houses of Parliament
big ben

Tower Bridge
tower bridge

I’m not sure if it still counts as ‘flâneuring’ if you’re with another person, but then how else are you supposed to get a picture of yourself with The Monument? (This one’s for you, Professor Robertson!)

the monument
(Thanks for taking the picture, Anna!)

Regardless, I think the best part about experiencing the world as a flâneur (whether solo or not) is the fun in seeing the world unfold around you, without having any expectations or agenda. While hoards of tourists were rushing around, anxiously clutching maps and cameras so as not to miss a single sight, I took pleasure in the fact that I have a whole year to experience as much of this city as possible. And that, I will!

Dia de los Muertos, London-style

After being back in London for roughly three weeks now, my first time back in over two years since my last study abroad program ended, I’ve been particularly interested in finding as many interesting cultural events as possible. London is known for being a vibrant, cultural hub. Take an hour to walk around any part of London, and you’ll meet people from all over the world. My MA course is practically a mini United Nations! This diversity is a large part of why I love this city so much.

That being said, I come from a Mexican background (well, half of me) and I’ve lived in California my whole life, which sometimes feels like an extension of Mexico. In California, if I’m craving an authentic taco al pastor, or if I want to go to a mercado, I don’t have to stray too far. In London, however, the Mexican population is vastly underrepresented. Because of this, it’s hard to have that connection with Mexican culture that I have back home.

This brings me to today: I was exiting the tube at Tottenham Court Road station with my friend Trent, another Californian in London, because we were on a mission to find a frozen yogurt place cheekily called Snog. While we were walking, I noticed a poster for a free Dia de los Muertos celebration taking place at The British Museum! For those of you who may not be familiar with Dia de los Muertos, it’s a holiday dedicated to celebrating the memories of loved ones who have passed on. Different countries celebrate in different ways, but generally there are special altars created with flowers and pictures, and there are candle-lit processions with music, dancing, and people dressed up in skeleton costumes. Here’s a photo I took of two of my friends, Risha and Steena, in San Francisco in 2007: Dia de los Muertos in SF

Having never been to The British Museum before, I don’t know what to expect but it sounds like it will be a fun way to spend a Sunday in London!

Now to figure out how to make a gluten-free version of pan de muertos…