Hi there! Thanks for taking interest in my project on the Mazu Festival. It's a very colorful and vibrant event and I am very excited about doing a documentary about it.
I started this documentary the last time I was in Taiwan, which was three years ago. At that time, I joined the pilgrimage by myself for a couple of days and captured the images that I am including in my submission. When I return to Taiwan this spring, I will not only shoot still imagery but also video. Not only do I need funds in purchasing equipment to do this, but I will have some local Taiwanese people helping me with interviews and temple access and I need to pay them for their services and travel expenses. I also am hoping to get funding for my own travel expenses to Taiwan.
Please watch the video above which gives a brief overview of the project. Below is more detailed information about the Mazu festival and pilgrimage.
Mazu is a Taoist deity of the sea, and a sort of patron saint of South China and Taiwan, both traditionally seafaring regions. It is believed that Mazu would bring fisherman back to shore, and safe from typhoons and other tragedies at sea. Because of this, Mazu is highly revered in these regions and worshipped. Even though fishing is no longer the main industry in these urbanized regions, people still pray to her. In honor of her birthday, tens of thousands of pilgrims walk hundreds of miles over a course of eight days visiting temples that have been erected in Mazu’s honor.
Sometimes the pilgrimage will stop at a temple for only a few minutes, but if it’s a temple that is especially sacred to the Taoist faith, it will stop for the night. When this happens, the town becomes one big street party- dragons dancing, fireworks exploding in all directions, gongs and trumpets thundering in a cacophony of sound. Clouds of incense are everywhere, and costumes are bright and colorful. Some followers, or “holy men” as they are called, show their devotion to Mazu by performing acts that reportedly exhibit that they have surpassed the limitation of their physical bodies and feel no pain. Some of these acts involve walking over hot coals or impaling thin rods in their flesh. Preparing for it in advance with fasting, meditation, and prayer, the devotees claim that they feel no pain because the spirit of Mazu is protecting them. Some of us westerners might find this practice to be extreme. However, it is important to many Taoists as it's a demonstration of the conquering of physical limitations as well as a higher level of spiritual attainment.
Such passionate devotees are few and far between, most people preferring to show their devotion by saying prayers and burning incense instead. Still, even if extreme acts of religious devotion aren’t performed it is still an extremely energetic and visually stimulating event. The sensory overload of this event makes it one of the most bizarre but also fascinating things I’ve ever witnessed.
One of the reasons it’s so fascinating to me is because the culture is so different from my western upbringing. It both intrigues and challenges me to find some way to comprehend and understand this culture that is so different from my own.
My intention with this project is to create a documentary that enhances our understanding of Asian culture, something that I feel is important in today's globalized world. There is so much that is heard today about Chinese culture. Computers and exploding economies are part of it, but the traditions of Taoism are important aspects of Chinese culture, as well. With my documentary, I want to show people these parts of the culture.
Taiwan, and recently China, are both modern and urbanized places. It fascinates me that a country so technologically advanced, where even a rice farmer has the latest electric gadgets, still engages in and reveres the Mazu Pilgrimage. Mazu was originally revered because the main industry was fishing, which is not the case in these now-urbanized regions. This is something else I want to show the viewer; that even though we are globalized, and increasingly becoming more and more so, local culture is still practiced. Extreme acts like pilgrimages that cultures engage in to feel some sense of unity and collective purpose in the form of religious worship is something that I find fascinating and worth documenting. I believe that these enduring festivals actually have something to teach us about globalization; that though the world is becoming monocultural in some ways, there are still unique and fascinating parts of local culture that aren’t being let go.
What is making my documentary different now from when I started it, is the addition of video. By using video in addition to still imagery, I know that aspects of this vibrant festival, especially those concerning religion and culture, will be made clearer to the viewer. I will interview pilgrims and holy people in order to better foster this understanding.
I plan to have it aired via educational avenues in order to reach as wide of an audience as possible. I’ve talked to people in education, and they said they would be interested in showing something of this cultural breadth to their students. I will also submit it to various film festivals.
I've been corresponding with some Taiwanese contacts and I will have people travel with me on the pilgrimage, helping me with temple access and translations. They will be able to arrange interviews with holy people and pilgrims, interviews that I was limited in doing in the past due to my intermediate Mandarin. Also, these local connections will give me a more intimate access to temples that I wasn’t able to get before being a lone foreigner.
Because of its vibrancy, I know that I will make a film of the Mazu pilgrimage that will be successful in both its demonstration of the local culture as well in its visual beauty.
I can't do this project, however, without some support. Any contribution that you can make will go a long ways in helping me make my goal of a documentary into a reality. Thank you very much for your support and for taking the time to consider my project!
Here is an interesting article about the pilgrimage:
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