As a documentary veteran who has worked at Foshan TV in Guangdong province for 23 years, director Wang Xiaofeng has trekked on many tough terrains, but Metog county in the Tibet autonomous region is etched in his memory as his most challenging task.
"Before falling asleep every night, I couldn't predict what will come first, the next day or the next 'accident'," says Wang about filming The Lotus in the Clouds, an episode of the documentary series 2020 Women De Tuopin Gushi (The Year of 2020: Our Stories of Poverty Eradication).
During the shooting between late 2018 and 2019, Wang encountered falling gravel on steep paths, got stung by bees and was kicked by a mule. He missed the last moments of his mother's life. She died of lymphatic cancer in March 2019.
Marking China's effort to build a moderately prosperous society in all respects, the 10-episode series-each part spanning 50 minutes-has aired on the documentary channel of China Central Television, or CCTV9, since Aug 22.
Within four years, the production assigned eight directors to some remote areas in central and western China, including Yunnan, Hubei, Shanxi and Shandong provinces and Tibet. An average of 2,000 hours of footage was shot for each episode.
In late 2018, Wang and his crew started to follow an eight-member team assigned by the local government in Foshan to help Metog's residents overcome poverty. Between 2016 and 2019, the team led by Xie Guogao, then-deputy Party secretary of Metog, visited all 46 villages in the county to find ways of raising local incomes.
"Xie is an easygoing person with a sense of humor. As someone who grew up in rural Guangdong, he always wears a straw hat and is good at enduring hardships and tough natural environments," Wang says.
As most of the villages were remote, Xie and other officials trekked over 600 kilometers in 30 days to get to the mountainous Yarlung Zangbo Grand Canyon area, and persuaded 31 households in a village to relocate to a more convenient place.
Local children in the village had to walk long distances from home to take buses to schools in the county. The hiking route is risky and rugged, forcing people to quickly get through a narrow path built along the face of a cliff where gravel falls frequently. There's an old hanging bridge stretching over the turbulent waters of the Yarlung Zangbo River.
But the relocation project had encountered obstacles. Some elderly villagers were reluctant to leave a familiar land where their ancestors lived.
"Some of the villagers had never left their hometown to see the outside world. We can understand their emotional connection to their native land," says Zhang Xu, the chief director of the documentary.
"China once invested a lot of money in improving local life in various aspects, from transportation to medical service and education, but the poverty problem couldn't be fundamentally solved, even with such efforts. And relocation has proved to be the most effective way to fight poverty."
Zhang says the idea of producing the documentary was promoted during the Guangzhou International Documentary Film Festival in 2016.
"Since then we have set the tune to tell all stories from individual perspectives, with a grand-theme backdrop," says Zhang.
Aside from the Metog episode, the documentary has turned its lens on a poor village in the Lyuliang Mountains in Shanxi, the ethnic Nu people living in the Nujiang Canyon area in Yunnan, and fishermen and their families who previously lived in boats on Honghu Lake in Hubei.
"Every story took more than two years to shoot, with the longest being four years. Time offers us a wide perspective to observe a transformation, which makes up one of the most valuable elements of a documentary," says Zhang.
"You will be touched to see that, even while living in poverty, the villagers kept their faith in tradition and love. They couldn't choose where they were born but they worked hard to pursue a better life. For us, that is worth recording."