"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
Hunting for aliens
Never mess with an alien
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.
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:
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!