Since 1971, only seven Canadian movies out of 47 submissions have ever been nominated in the Best International Feature Film category at the Oscars, with 2003’s Les Invasions barbares being the sole winner. The last few times Canada was nominated in the category were for a string of French-Canadian movies of the 2010s: Denis Villeneuve’s Incendies in 2010; Philippe Falardeau’s Monsieur Lazhar in 2022; and Kim Nguyen’s Rebelle in 2012. Indeed, French-Canadian cinema has largely monopolized Canada’s submissions, with 44 of the 47 films being French-language. This year, per The Hollywood Reporter, director Jason Loftus is hoping to change things with Eternal Spring.
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A Mandarin-language film, Eternal Spring is a documentary that mixes live action and animation to tell the harrowing true story of the March 2002 hijacking of China’s state TV signal by a group of Falun Gong spiritual activists in the capital city of Changchun. For its practitioners, Falun Gong is a spiritual practice that aligns itself in Buddhist traditions and involves meditation and exercises akin to yoga and tai chi. It began in the early-90s, and, by the turn of the new millennium, became widely popular across China, its practitioners essentially outnumbering those in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
As a result, the CCP banned Falun Gong, spreading misinformation about the practice and its members and suppressing those who spoke out. To combat the government’s human rights violations, activists hacked into state television in Changchun in order to broadcast the truth of Falun Gong and of the government’s infringement of religious freedom. Afterward, police forces raided the homes of suspected activists and practitioners, using violence and torture to gain information. Some like comic book illustrator Daxiong, who is at the center of Eternal Spring, were forced to flee, while others were imprisoned and suffered much darker fates.
Art Based on a Shared Memory
At its core, Eternal Spring succeeds as history made tangible, shareable, and, of utmost importance here, personal. Many cinematic historical dramas like Titanic or Dunkirk rely on re-enactments of the truth via actors, costumes, sets, and story, fundamentally using entertainment as an avenue for education. Loftus’ documentary, on the other hand, while still wholly engrossing, employs Daxiong’s art to illustrate the brutality of the CCP against its peaceful protestors. That Daxiong himself experienced first-hand this dark moment in Changchun history — and, more significantly, sketches out the memories of those he interviews throughout the documentary in real-time — affords Eternal Spring proximity to the past that underscores an immediacy between the documentary and its subject. In other words, Eternal Spring is effectively a shared memory created literally by those who were present at this moment in time.
Watching Eternal Spring, some may recognize Daxiong, either by name or drawing, for his storied contributions, as an artist and publisher, to successful comic book series like Justice League of America and Star Wars Adventures: Boba Fett and the Ship of Fear. In fact, there are moments where Loftus leans on the artist’s background here, lending a sense of super-heroism to the Falun Gong activists’ story, which boasts the high stakes of a heist, the sheer gravity of life-or-death consequences, and the resolute determination to fight for what’s right.
Related: Exclusive Eternal Spring Clip: Chinese Activists Plan a TV Hijacking in Animated Recreation of 2002 Event
A Change in Direction for Loftus
Lofty Sky Pictures
Eternal Spring isn’t the first time Loftus has turned his directorial lens on the Chinese government. In his debut documentary Ask No Questions, which he co-directed with Eric Pedicelli, Loftus aimed to unravel a theory, as outlined by Culture Mix, that the five people who caught on fire (and were deemed to have made a suicide pact) in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square was actually staged by the Chinese government in an effort to decry Falun Gong, of which Loftus is a practitioner, as a dangerous cult. Eternal Spring evidently has spiritual ties to Ask No Questions, but where the latter was somewhat more of a recycling of others’ investigations on the matter, offering little to move the needle, the former excels in painting a more intimate picture of the issue.
This is because Loftus switches directions in Eternal Spring, allowing Daxiong to take the lead and spotlight the voices and perspectives of those who lived through the hijacking, the police raids, the fleeing, and the imprisonment. The result is a documentary that resists feeling like an excavation venture and urges those on the outside to step in and, ultimately, witness, engage with, and possibly learn about what happens when those in power abuse their position — and going further, what happens when those who are forced into silence or obscurity rise up.
Eternal Spring is now playing in select theaters.