Collaborating with Documentary Team–First Day Shooting in Remote Village

We promised the husband the night before that we would help in the fields in the morning. We got up around 8:15am to get some breakfast before going to the field. Breakfast consisted of fried dough and egg soup. After breakfast, we ventured to the fields nestled below the village. The husband, wife, and relatives  came together with a collection of hoes and seran wrap to prepare planting corn and pumpkin seeds. I watching them place seran wrap over lanes of dirt and use a hoe to steady the plastic wrap into place with a layer of dirt. I then grabbed a hoe to join.

The National Geographic team left to find their friend and pick up equipment. I stayed back and helped the family. We almost got half of the field done when the team came back. They said they filmed the son of the family hacking a dead baby goat in half. I was stunned. It had died the night before from some disease. That moment, I remembered I tried to help the goat the day before get back on the back lawn (it had fallen over the wall), when the son yelled to me saying that the goat is crazy. If I touched it the disease would be passed to me. I stayed away from the poor little thing, afraid it might have rabies. I remember hearing it whine and whine the entire night, all alone with no mother to cuddle with, almost immobile from some degenerative disease. It was dead that morning and the son hacked it in half to feed to the pigs and the dog. I wonder if the disease will pass onto those animals?

At the field, the team asked me to join them and get out of the scene. They filmed the family plow the fields and the surrounding scenery. They then entered the field to get close ups of the farm work. I observed from the side, watching how a documentary is made–lots of shots and chances of luck.

The family ushered us back to their home for lunch–potato and pork stew with green vegetables and rice. We ate, talked with the family, and played with the family puppy until we moved back to the field again to plant corn and pumpkins seeds. The team brought their equipment again. I stayed to the side until I thought they were done filming the family. I jumped back in to help out by shoveling dirt over the seeds, which were planted by poking holes into the plastic wrap. After finishing the first round of planting, I returned to the group to find out I got in a lot of their shots. They joked that now I HAVE to be a persona in the documentary. Not sure how to feel about that…ack.

IMG_1430The Team Filming Scenery

The team asked if I could bring them to one of the animal grazing areas. I agreed and led them to the place the little boy brought me to during my last visit. However, on the walk there, we stopped multiple times as the team filmed random locals, animals, or scenic spots. They also filmed a mill powered by a man-made stream made out of wood and rocks.

IMG_1435Ingenius–Local Water Mill


Director of Photography (Remote Village in the Background)

We finally made it to the grazing area to only find a small herd of cows. The families must have gone somewhere else today. They still shot footage of the scenery and the cows in the distance. We then headed back to the house to prepare for dinner. When we arrived back to the house, we played with a soccer ball and made up a game to kick the ball under a bench. The team is fun to hang out with. Somehow we end up laughing about something at the end of each conversation.

We moved into the living area for dinner, which was about the same as lunch–potato and pork stew with radishes. This night we talked with each other more than the family. We brought up Chinese politics and asked my friend and driver, Zhou Yang, if he knew about the Tiananmen Incident. He did not. When the Chinese Americans translated the event to him in Chinese, he didn’t seem fazed. He changed the conversation to another direction about how Tibetan and Xinjiang (a northwestern province in Chinese known for ethnic conflict) leaders are in cahoots. This is common CCP propaganda. I asked if he believes what he watches and listens to on CCTV. He said he does. I recommended that he gets a VPN and read new sources outside of China to get a broader understanding of national and international issues.

The director of the documentary shared his experiences in Xinjiang in 2009. He said he was in Kasgar when the massive riots and bloodshed occupied Urumqi. When he was talking with a local in Kashgar during this time, the police started to approach them. The local told the director not to share he was American, or else he would never be seen again. Ricky lied about his nationality to the Han police officers when they asked. The Director of Photography, Daniel, shared how his ex-girlfriend was in Urumqi at the time during the massive riots and killings of Uighurs on the streets. Her father had connections with the government and were air lifted from the “war-zone.” She could see the fighting on the streets. Ricky said the roads were red with blood that day.

I shivered from the thought.

The night was filled with discussion on politics. Later, we called it a night and headed out to the courtyard to check out the stars before catching some shut eye. I’ve been keeping up the habit of journaling my experiences every night. It’s good practice. We will be celebrating with the locals tomorrow. The 4-day long praying ceremony will be ending soon and the celebrating will begin!

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