- Eternal Spring
- Written and directed by Jason Loftus
- Classification N/A; 86 minutes
- Opens in select theatres Sept. 23
From the very first scenes of the Canadian documentary Eternal Spring, you’re thrust into a thrilling, all-consuming film that challenges traditional documentary tropes and finds a way to tell a winding, difficult story with brilliant ease.
Opening on the scene of a mass arrest taking place in Changchun, China, the tension and suspense of this moment are captured at a pitch-perfect pace by the animation style, which conjures both traditional Chinese comics and Grand Theft Auto. The action itself could be taking place in any classic Tarantino film. But it’s soon clear this is not a heated thriller but a heartfelt journey to reconnect to the past and unearth uncomfortable, but necessary truths.
Written and directed by Jason Loftus, Eternal Spring follows exiled comic artist Daxiong, a practitioner of Falun Gong, whose animations are revered internationally. Daxiong fled Changchun shortly after members of Falun Gong hijacked Chinese state TV to broadcast an alternative message about the religion to citizens who had up until then been told Falun Gong was a harmful, dangerous practice. Although Daxiong was not involved in the hijacking itself, he was considered an insider and police were following him closely enough that he felt he had no choice but to leave his beloved childhood city.
As he first tells it, Daxiong has always felt strongly that the actions of the hijackers were wrong, as they only heightened the persecution Falun Gong members were facing and led to thousands of arrests, mass torture and deaths. But he’s nonetheless committed to telling this story, to “creating art based on a shared memory,” as he puts it, and so he tracks down surviving witnesses to piece together what happened on March 5, 2002, and bring it to life with his animations.
That unprecedented breach of Communist Party control made international headlines and led to about 2,000 arrests. Falun Gong members, most unconnected to the event itself, were shot at, tortured and forced to recant their beliefs under duress.
Mixing traditional documentary styles with animation and archive video, Eternal Spring blends this mixed media in such a personal way that it’s impossible not to be moved by the stories of these survivors and the ones they’ve lost.
By the end, even Daxiong finds himself reconsidering his earlier views on the hijacking, and comes to see it as an act of love, rather than a painful disruption. He’s determined to paint a different picture, quite literally, of these everyday heroes who risked it all to bring their truth to the public. In fact, he sees in these men and women the same attributes he saw in the warriors of the comics he so loved in his youth.
It’s easy to see why Eternal Spring is Canada’s official selection for 2023 Oscar consideration in the best international feature film category. Many Falun Gong refugees came to Canada after persecution in China, including Daxiong himself who now lives in Toronto with his family.
Watching these painful, shared memories come to life, seeing up close as the few who made it out are able to pay homage to those who didn’t, it’s hard not to think of all those who continue to be punished for practising their beliefs in China, from the Falun Gong practitioners to the Uyghur Muslims. Perhaps a film like this can illuminate what is lost in shadow, much like the hijackers did on that night in 2002. Either way, their message is being rebroadcast in the loudest possible way with Eternal Spring.