Hot Docs

Eternal Spring Review: Animating an Awakening

Hot Docs 2022

/
5 mins read

Eternal Spring
(Canada, 88 min.)
Dir. Jason Loftus
Programme: Canadian Spectrum (North American Premiere)

 

North American audiences might only know Falun Gong if they saw a bad Law & Order episode in the 1990s or turned a curious eye towards demonstrators meditating and protesting peacefully on the lawns of legislative assemblies. Mainstream media often treats the faith with cultish monikers. Moreover, as Jason Loftus’s ingenious animated doc Eternal Spring illustrates, the Chinese government masterminded this misperception. Eternal Spring captures the work of Chinese artist Daxiong, who revisits his participation in hijacking a TV station in 2002. Daxiong explains how the rebellion sought to correct the message about Falun Gong. Moreover, they wanted to offer a message of hope to China. The artist is one of two surviving participants who escaped China. Together, they recreate the narrative of the hijacking in vivid detail and consider the state of authoritarianism in China today.

Loftus draws upon his relationship with Daxiong after working with the artist on the video game Shuyan Saga. Although Loftus is the director, Eternal Spring is clearly a collaborative work. Daxiong’s aesthetic propels the story and navigates a complex political situation expressing in images the experiences of participants who are no longer here to tell their stories. The artist, who is now based in New York, is acclaimed for his work in comics for Justice League and Star Wars. Eternal Spring therefore captures a comic book aesthetic as Daxiong illustrates in his artistic voice the tales of ordinary heroes who stood up for freedom of expression.

 

Meeting Mr. White

Eternal Spring mixes animation with straightforward testimonials and vérité footage of Daxiong illustrating the tale. The hybrid approach both recounts the story of the 2002 hijacking and Daxiong’s own growth as an artist. He transports audiences back to the neighbourhood of Changchun with a gripping account of police brutality. As a young man in China, he was constantly on the run after seeing his peers receive brutal, sometimes fatal, blows from police.

The non-linear method of unfolding the story admittedly makes the telling somewhat convoluted, and there’s a lot of information to absorb as Daxiong and his colleague, “Mr. White” who now lives in Seoul, provide the context for the protest. They detail an authoritative regime that censored free speech and freedom of religion. They recall how the government used TV to dispel unflattering propaganda about Falun Gong. However, these efforts to dissuade public opinion merely motivated the participants to summon a collective awakening.

Daxiong and Mr. White deliver detailed accounts of the preparations for and the execution of the event. They recall stakeouts and carefully coordinated steps in which they took control of the airwaves. They share how they learned from the power of Chinese propaganda and used the airwaves to broadcast a positive informmercial about Falun Gong into countless households. Drawing upon the few memories that remain, Eternal Spring recreates the protest with gripping detail.

 

Life on the Run

While any animated documentary has a tough act to follow on the heels of Flee, Eternal Spring further demonstrates the potential to use the power of imagination to film the unfilmable. These compelling re-enactments also involve some impressionistic imagery as Daxiong evokes the weight of confronting a regime. That these two films also use animation to convey tales of life of the run, moreover, aids the human rights causes they consider. This film couldn’t exist without animation. Daxiong might not be the artist he is today if not for mobilizing with his comrades to harness the power of media. The film underscores how censorship and the suppression of religion expression remain urgent concerns in China. Eternal Spring artfully articulates a people’s hunger for change.

 

Eternal Spring premieres at Hot Docs on May 3.

 

Pat Mullen is the publisher of POV Magazine. He holds a Master’s in Film Studies from Carleton University where his research focused on adaptation and Canadian cinema. Pat has also contributed to outlets including The Canadian Encyclopedia, Paste, That Shelf, Sharp, and Complex. He is the vice president of the Toronto Film Critics Association.

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