Tina Gionis film to foster understanding of Asian cultureWritten by Brigitta Burks | News Editor | BBurks@toledofreepress.com
Documentarian and Toledoan Tina Gionis hopes to foster a better understanding of Asian culture with the film she is now making in Taiwan.
“I want to show Westerners how interesting certain parts of Asian culture can be because we have a lot of stereotypes about Asians, especially the Chinese,” Gionis said.
Gionis left Toledo on March 14 to travel to Taiwan, where she will spend a month. She will document the Mazu Pilgrimage and Festival, an annual celebration honoring Mazu the sea deity of the Taoist faith. Taiwan used to rely heavily on the fishing industry before becoming more urbanized, but the culture still celebrates the goddess once a year.
“It’s so visually exciting and interesting and really capable of showing people a lot of the really beautiful and interesting aspects of Asian culture,” Gionis said of the festival, adding, “I’ve never seen anything like it. There’s fireworks, there’s thousands of people; there’s dancing dragons, acrobats.”
Gionis graduated from the University of Toledo in 1996 and then lived abroad for about 10 years, six of them in Taiwan. While overseas, Gionis taught English and worked as a travel photographer and writer. She moved to New York City in 2007 before coming back to the area to complete her master’s degree at Bowling Green State University.
The photographer is excited about her return to Taiwan. “Every day in Asia is an adventure. Every day, you have to figure out how to do something. When you move somewhere, especially when it’s a culture that’s as different as an Asian culture, it’s almost like you’re a child again. You’re relearning everything, so I miss that. I miss the color, the food, the vibrancy, the crowd, the chaos,” she said.
Her journey back to Asia has not gone without a hitch. Gionis had been told that the festival wasn’t until the end of April, but learned it actually started the week of March 18. To cover costs, she took out loans, but is still accepting donations at www.kickstarter.com/projects/1093227511/mazu-pilgrimage-and-festival. However, to receive any funds through the Kickstarter funding program, the full goal amount of $4,800 must be reached by April 29. So far, $1,947 has been raised. Donors receive gifts ranging from postcards to associate producer credits depending on the amount given.
After the filming is complete, Gionis will spend about six months editing the footage. She plans to enter the film into festivals and possibly show it at schools and on educational channels.
Gionis is especially looking forward to talking to the festival’s pilgrims, who walk for eight days, and Taoist mystics, who spend the year fasting and meditating in preparation for the festival.
“They do feats that show they’ve surpassed the natural limitations of their bodies,” Gionis said, adding that this includes walking on coals.
Gionis hopes the film will have an impact on her hometown. “This documentary is going to be important because, especially in Toledo, there’s so much talk about Chinese investing. We have such a stereotype, such an impression of them, and I just want to show [Toledo] more of [the Chinese] culture,” she said.
She added, “There are so many differences between Western culture and Asian culture. Sometimes it’s almost a 180 [degree turn], but then there are so many other things that are the same, like our need for unity or our need for gathering or need for celebration.”