GoPro Original Productions: Behind the Scenes in China
Today GoPro launched “You’ll Be My Arms, I’ll Be Your Eyes,” a must-see video about the triumph of the human spirit and the incredible bonds that can be born out of hardship.
The short film is the story of two men – one armless, one blind – who together have planted a forest of more than 10,000 trees in rural China and built a legacy for the future generations of their village. GoPro traveled to their home in Hebei Province in March of this year to capture their amazing story and experience their day to day life first hand. We caught up with the two production artists who captured this story, Danny Wang and Matt Ma, to get behind the scenes insights into the shoot.
GoPro: How did GoPro learn about these two men and this incredible story?
Danny: Rebecca Harper on our publishing team read a story about Jia Haixia and Jia Wenqi in November of last year. She sent it to our media production team in Shanghai and we immediately put it on our calendar as a must-do story. Matt Ma, who is based in Shanghai, did a ton of research to find and contact the men to get their permission to come out and film with them. We finalized dates and headed out in late March for the shoot.
GoPro: How remote was their Village? Was it difficult to get there?
Matt: The Yeli village is in the Hebei Province, about a 5-hour drive from Beijing. We definitely got lost along the way! We had GPS but we didn’t really have a precise location to put into the navigation system. And we spent more than an hour stuck behind these huge trucks that were just stopped in the middle of the road. We arrived very late at night and didn’t get a good sense of our surroundings until the next morning.
GoPro: What is the Yeli Village like?
Matt: The village itself is small – maybe about 100 people. And nearly everyone is over the age of 50. Children all leave the village to go find work elsewhere and send money home, which is the story of Jia Haixia, the blind man. His wife and son both live outside of the village to work.
Danny: Honestly, I think we were both stunned by how much pollution there was. In a lot of rural villages in China, the air is clean and the weather is beautiful. But in Hebei Province, it’s very industry heavy - lots of factories and quarries and mining. There is constant construction and factory work and dust everywhere. We parked a clean car outside of our hotel the night we arrived but by the morning at least two centimeters of dust had accumulated on the surface. People there were living their lives like nothing was happening, but it was quite sad. We tried to convey these environmental conditions in the video but I don’t think anything can prepare you for what it’s actually like.
GoPro: What are Jia Haixia and Jia Wenqi like? What is their day to day routine?
Matt: Before we went on the shoot we thought they were very dependent on each other; we assumed that they lived together or helped each other with daily tasks. But we were surprised that they’re mostly independent. Jia Haixia, the blind man, navigates his way throughout the village without the help from anyone. He’s lived there so long that he knows his way. He walks with confidence. And Jia Wenqi, the armless man, is very independent – he does most daily tasks, like preparing food – on his own. The two men get together to enjoy one another’s company, but they were far more independent than we expected.
GoPro: Tell us more about the tree planting process – what you witnessed, how they approach the task daily.
Danny: For me, it was a ‘holy shit’ experience. They make it like, ‘this is no big deal, this is what we do everyday.’ But we showed up we were like, “are you serious!? There is a blind man climbing a tree higher and higher to get the perfect branch for planting and an armless man picking up a shovel with his chin and shoulder to dig a hole for that branch.” The entire experience makes you really question yourself and what you’re doing with your life.
Matt: The branch part is crazy. You think about trees being planted from seeds or saplings, but they don’t have that option. And the tools they use are so simple – hatchets, shovels and buckets. It’s amazing that they have been able to successfully plant so many trees with these basic tools.
Danny: One of the coolest things is that when they’re working together they truly complete the other. Literally everything the armless man can’t do the blind man completes for him and vice versa. And we were blown away by how easy they make it look! To them, it’s completely normal. They’re efficient and it appears almost effortless.
GoPro: Did you learn anything else that surprised you?
Matt: We learned that there are some companies and factories that have approached the brothers to buy the trees for more than one million RMB which is a HUGE amount of money, and they refused. They have planted trees for 10 years - all of the trees are like their babies, their children. Jia Haixia and Jia Wenqi had the choice to make money and move out of this village and this life but they’ve grown emotional attached to the trees they’ve planted and refused.
GoPro: Any moments of levity or humor?
Danny: There are these huge mosquitos. Jia Haixia, the blind brother, can hit the bugs but can’t see them, while Jia Wenqi, the armless brother, can see them but can’t hit them. Watching them run around trying to hit mosquitos off of themselves was pretty funny and they were laughing about it.
Above, from left to right: Danny Wang, Jia Haixia, Jia Wengi, and Matt Ma.
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