Trailer: California’s Cannabis Culture

Yes, I know it's a bit backwards to post the trailer after posting the full-length documentary... [vimeo 13407033]

California’s Cannabis Culture

It's been a couple of months in the making, but my final MA dissertation/final project documentary, "California's Cannabis Culture" is officially done! And it can be viewed here:

[vimeo 13381803]

It's a journey into California's marijuana scene, which could take a pivotal turn in November, when Californians vote on whether or not to legalize marijuana.

Please watch, comment, share, and enjoy!

Passing Clouds documentary

Friends, Family, and other readers of 'The London Scene': you may have noticed that I still haven't posted anything in ages, but there are two very distinct reasons why: 1. Since my laptop broke, I've barely been online. My replacement laptop came in about a week ago, but it's painfully slow, making me avoid computer usage unless absolutely essential. Instead, my nights have consisted of intense "Lost" and "Queer As Folk" marathons. 2. We've been working really hard over the past 6 weeks on our documentary for one of my courses here at Westminster University. Many hours spent filming, scripting, and editing. Far too many. But, it's been worth it because we're finally done!

The documentary is called "Passing Clouds", and it's about an alternative arts club--hidden in a back alley in East London--with the same name. In a nutshell:

"Fed up with present-day commercialism, a group of people from different countries gather to build what they believe is a better way of living. They created a place called Passing Clouds, in London, to introduce a more communal and responsible lifestyle."

And you can watch the documentary here:


In terms of production, there were three of us working on it. I initially found out about this place from a blurb on Time Out. After making contact with the organizers, we filmed over a period of three days.

I did a lot of the camera work, as well as editing (though we all took turns with different tasks, and worked together closely to produce this final version).

This was the first documentary I've worked on since the Nicaragua one ("Mano Por Mano") that I produced for USF in 2008. I forgot how much work goes into such a little amount of time, but I love doing it.

So what are your thoughts on the documentary? Would you visit a place like Passing Clouds? Do you agree with their way of life? Do you think it's better to live a more communal, rather than individually-minded, lifestyle?

Leave comments with your thoughts!

Good Shoes at ULU

Somehow I’ve developed a habit of taking people to their first concerts in foreign countries. Back in San Francisco, I remember taking a Japanese friend to see Late of the Pier and The Whip. I also took a Mexican friend to see Spinto Band.

Now, in London, I took two of my classmates (Richa, from India, and Junjie, from China) to their first concert in the UK: Good Shoes, at ULU.

Music is something that can be enjoyed by anyone around the world, no matter where you come from.

It’s one of those things that spans every different type of culture. You don’t even have to understand the language to appreciate music. It’s more about the feelings that are evoked when you hear music.

Since music is such a big part of my life, I was happy to be able to share this concert experience with my new friends.

Thanks to TFL’s weekend ‘upgrades’, we had to take the long way to get to central London, and ended up missing the opening bands.

We did make it in time for Good Shoes, luckily. Good Shoes are a band that I’ve been a fan of for a number of years, but never had the chance to see them in concert.

They’re from London, and they have never toured in San Francisco. Because of this, I was especially excited to finally get to see them.

At concerts, it is not uncommon for audience members to take pictures of the band during the show. You can’t go to a concert today without seeing people pull out their digital cameras or cell phones, trying to capture every moment.

In an unusual role reversal, the lead singer of Good Shoes came out and decided to take pictures of us, the audience.

It felt weird to be on the other side of the lens, but it was nice to see that even band members enjoy capturing these moments.


I don’t know if it was the median age of the crowd (perhaps 17 years old), or the amount of beer being consumed, but the audience was particularly raucous for this show.

We started out in the middle, near the stage—for the first song, anyway. Then, the moshing started.

I usually associate moshing with more hardcore punk shows, and not with a band like Good Shoes. I’d like to think that, at least for a short while, we put up a good effort to keep up with the crowd.

However, we eventually got pushed out to the side, on the outskirts of the pit.

Despite the rowdy crowd, the show was a lot of fun. The band exuded energy and excitement, and played a good mix of old and new songs.

More than anything, it was nice to be able to share this experience with my new friends.

Music is a great way to connect with people, and I hope to continue to explore and share London’s music scene with anyone who wants to take part!

Guest Blogger: Robert Van West

As far as holidays go in the U.S, Thanksgiving is right up there with Christmas. Food, family, friends, more food, television specials, more food, passing out: basically, just like Christmas, but without a bearded, obese man handing out presents. This year was my first Thanksgiving away from home. However, a piece of home came to me in the form of my older brother, Robbie.

He took a few days off from his teaching program in Spain to spend some time with me in London.

Here are some of his thoughts on life and culture in London:

You came to visit me in London over two years ago. What was your perception of London then? Has it changed after this visit?

My first excursion to jolly-old London was marked by a subcultural curiosity fueled perceptions based on music and film.

I expected to encounter cockney gangsters, boisterous soccer hooligans, dirty punk rockers on the dole, ace face mods on scooters and suit clad Jamaican rude boys.

After that first visit, I realized that the subcultural glory of London’s past exists only in London’s past. The upper class international hipster elite have taken over the streets of London and gentrification has taken its toll.

At least there are still good old fashioned Victorian pubs.

My view of London has become more realistic. I’ve realized that the best thing this city has to offer is its Victorian pubs and free museums.

London is as globalized and gentrified as any big city in the west. Almost anything I would want to do in London, I could do in San Francisco, New York or LA.

What are some differences between where you live in Spain and life in London? London is modern, fast paced, expensive, global and multicultural – whereas rural Spain is rustic, slow paced, inexpensive and culturally homogenous.

Do you think London is one of the top cities in the world, in terms of cultural events going on? Definitely. London is up there with San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York.

Most everything that can be done in London, as far as cultural events go, can be done in any other big international city.

The “real” London is something that exists under the radar, and is something that most visitors, and even most Londoners, won’t be able to experience

Do you think there’s a greater appreciation for arts/music in London than in other big cities you’ve been to? Why or why not? This is a tough question. London is a hard working city and it is also a gentrified city.

A lot of mainstream Londoners listen to the same crap with the same feigned appreciation as other people from big cities.

London has a glorious musical past, but it hasn’t been able to recreate what it did in the 60s and 70s.If anything, it has used the imagery of those times in order to pull in more tourism.

How does the music scene in London compare to the scene in San Francisco? Barcelona? In Berlin? London’s music scene, because of its historical role in the music industry, has a lot more hype than a lot of other cities.

England is also a real small country, so a mediocre London band could get a lot bigger than a superior band from Liverpool, just because the media spreads things faster from London.

Any contemporary music I listen to is underground and independent, so to me it doesn’t matter where the band came from so long as they rock my trouser pants off.

What are the similarities and differences between how people our age behave/socialize in the U.S, Spain, and Germany? Generally (key word), Americans are more superficial when they socialize; Spaniards are louder and more animated; Germans like to talk a lot about intellectual mumbo-jumbo; and the English seem to fall somewhere between the Germans and Americans.

They enjoy having intellectual conversations with a few pints, but they also know how to get completely wrecked and retarded-drunk.

Do you think the attitude towards Americans in Europe has changed at all since the last time you came here? No. The English I’ve met always judge Americans the same as anyone else. In my experience, the English are often the most receptive to Americans.

What’s your favorite part about London? Least favorite? Favorite: Victorian pubs serving hand pumped ales. Least favorite: Helllla fucking expensive assed town, dude.

How did you enjoy Thanksgiving, London-style? It was the dog’s bollocks.

What was the best part of your trip here? Seeing my lovely little sister happy and flourishing her new habitat. Ed note: awww

Thanks, Robbie!

A Blast To The Past

Since recently moving into our new home, my housemates and I have been living… without internet (dun dun DUN!). The horror, the horror! The only time we have access to the internet is when we’re on campus and, even then, it’s limited to the times that we’re not in class.

Our culture has become one that is so dependent on internet usage. We use it as a means of communication—from writing a quick Facebook comment, to receiving e-mails from professors, to keeping up with friends and family halfway across the world.

We use it for entertainment. We use it to stay informed with things going on around the world. We use it for academic purposes. We use it for the convenience of looking up directions.

We use it for everything. Moral of the story: without internet in this day and age, we’re all gonna die.

Luckily my housemates and I are survivors in this battle, and have (re)learned to function without it.

For those of you with limited internet access (which, if you’re reading my blog on your limited amount of internet time, then a big gold star goes out to you!), here are some of our top tips to keep yourself informed, entertained, and sane during the hard times:

*Cooking: Put down that takeaway menu! Step away from frozen meals! Preparing a meal with fresh ingredients, completely from scratch, is not only healthy, but it’s a fun way to spend an evening after a long day of working. If you’re like me and not much of a cook, then get a friend to help out and learn their techniques.

*Games: Lately my friends and I have taken to playing traditional party games, like charades. You can also pick up a deck of cards or some cheap board games in a charity shop, and do a whole game night.

*Reading: You know that book that’s been sitting on your shelf for months, just waiting to be cracked open? It’s calling your name! It’s saying, “leave that internet hussy and come back to me, baby!”

The same goes for newspapers. I’m sure the big wigs at The Guardian will be happy to know that there’s still a place in people’s lives for actual newspapers. And those people are poor students who didn’t realize that it takes a long time for internet to be set up…

*Flaneuring: Good ol’ flaneuring, always a great way to pass time!

*Face-To-Face Conversations: When I first started working for Ustream, I thought it was odd to be IMing your co-worker, sitting right next to you, instead of just speaking out loud. However, it quickly became the norm and I adapted accordingly.

Even with close friends, a lot of interaction is done through the internet. Facebook, Twitter, IMing, e-mailing, Skype—there is an endless source of ways to communicate online.

Now, it’s been nice to spend more time having long conversations with people. Each person has so much to offer, we can all learn loads of information from each other.

When you look up something on Wikipedia, you can’t ask follow-up questions or opinions. If you want to know something and ask a person to their face, a simple question can turn into a long and meaningful conversation, or an intellectual debate.

It’s easy to take all of these simple things for granted. That being said, I know I’m going to go back to using the internet a lot more once it’s set up. It’s something that is an integral part of our culture, and is here to stay. However, it’s important to remember that there’s a lot of value to be had in logging off sometimes.

So go forth and close those browsers! Turn off your router! But leave a comment before you do… ☺

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