Jason Loftus’ animated documentary tells a political story about a group of Falun Gong members who hijacked Chinese state television in 2002, but that’s only part of the story.
In the strategic maneuvers of the Oscar season, betting on the primacy of recency is always wise. Hoping to capitalize on last year’s overwhelming love for “Flee,” the first film to be nominated for Best Animated Feature, Best International Feature and Best Documentary at the Oscars, Canada picked a documentary politically daring animation as its official entry. Apparently no one at the National Film Board of Canada knows Wikipedia.
Directed by Jason Loftus, “Eternal Spring” uses beautiful 3D cartoons to animate the story of a 2002 hijacking of state television by members of Falun Gong, a religious group that was brutally censored in the end. 90s/early 2000s. Drawing on childhood memories, artist Daxiong imbues the story with emotional weight by reframing his feelings about religion.
Taken on its own, it’s a moving portrait of political dissidents fighting for religious freedom – but the film fails to mention that religion is currently peddling a host of far-right conspiracy theories, including QAnon, anti-vaccine misinformation, and denigrates evolution, atheism, and homosexuality. Unfortunately for the film’s creative merits, art doesn’t exist in a vacuum.
Falun Gong (or Falun Dafa) originated in the northeast city of Changchun, where Daxiong was born and raised. Classified as a new religious movement, the meditation-based practice blends Buddhist and Taoist traditions with qigong-style exercises (although it would later feud with qigong groups). Initially embraced by the Chinese government, attitudes changed as the movement gained popularity at home and abroad. In 1999, the full weight of Chinese state-sponsored media and government surveillance fell on the practice, forcing many members to flee the country.
“Eternal Spring” tells the story of the television takeover. On March 8, 2002, a group of practitioners based in Changchun hijacked state television to broadcast images of Falun Gong practiced worldwide and praised as a positive religion based on love. After setting the stage for Daxiong’s personal connection to religion, the film follows the artist as he interviews surviving members of the television takeover, sketching their portraits with rapid precision. Loftus presents different players as avatars in a video game, which replay when their voices are heard, making it easy to track and connect with each character. Daxiong’s drawings are then transposed into radical 3D animation to tell the story, which unfolds in a captivating thriller clip.
Seamlessly transitioning from present-day interviews to lyrical animation, “Eternal Spring” offers a neat window into the making of the film while building empathy and connecting the story to today, with a few twists. obvious caveats. A man cries after seeing an animated version of the house he can never return to, highlighting the human toll of the Chinese government’s brutality. Sadly, many key players in the TV takeover did not survive their lengthy prison sentences or torture. With Daxiong’s detailed faces and descriptive narration, the animation is able to bring them to life, though their absence from the live parts is a grim warning.
One figure that stands out is called Big Truck. Described as a former thug who changed his ways after discovering Falun Gong. Its towering setting fills the story with a gentle giant humility, and its heroic tale of prison escape is inspiring. Liang is nicknamed The Mastermind, a respected local leader who masterminded the hijacking. A beautiful scene stems from one of his most creative protests, as banners proclaiming “Falun Gong is good” float over the city on helium balloons. When an official pops a balloon, yellow paper flyers sprinkle like confetti.
The film ends with a mournful postscript detailing how and where these characters perished, mostly in prison or from injuries sustained there. As their photos appear alongside their fates, it’s striking to think how easily names and numbers fade into oblivion. How many people are currently suffering in Chinese prisons, and who will tell their story? Adopted with great care, “Eternal Spring” looks like a sacred reckoning, rescuing a brave act of political protest from the darkness of time and propaganda. But that was then.
Today, Falun Gong is known for owning and operating The Epoch Times, “a multilingual newspaper that opposes the Chinese Communist Party, promotes far-right politicians in Europe, and defended former President Donald Trump in the United States. States,” according to Wikipedia. . “The Epoch Media Group news sites and YouTube channels spread conspiracy theories such as QAnon and anti-vaccine misinformation, and false allegations of fraud in the 2020 U.S. presidential election. In 2020, the New York Times called it a “global disinformation campaign”.
“Eternal Spring” wouldn’t be the first time Falun Gong has used art to convey its messages. Falun Gong also operates its own television channel, New Tang Dynasty, and Shen Yun Performing Arts, a US-based entertainment company. All of these entities are overseen by Falun Gong founder Li Hongzhi, who appears in the film as a trusted interview subject, although he has publicly espoused the view that extraterrestrials walk the earth.
The story of “Eternal Spring” is worth telling, but honestly – Loftus’ film, however, falls victim to the same kind of insidious propaganda that Falun Gong members once tried to fight.
“Eternal Spring” is in select theaters now.