Canadian filmmaker Jason Loftus’ award-winning animated documentary Eternal Spring recently made its debut in Melbourne, Australia, where it played in packed theaters at the 8th Annual Melbourne Documentary Film Festival. After the initial shows sold out, the festival added encore screenings to its line-up.
Set in the northeastern city of Changchun in China’s Jilin Province, Eternal Spring depicts the true story of eight Falun Gong practitioners who risked their lives to counter a government propaganda campaign targeting the peaceful practice of Falun Gong. The riveting narrative and the film’s unique delivery resonated with audiences, critics, and film festival juries alike.
After earning a dozen awards earlier this spring, including Hot Docs in Toronto, Canada, and Thessaloniki, Greece, Eternal Spring captured the Supreme Jury Award at the Melbourne Festival. Loftus, a Peabody Award-winning director, said of the win: “The audience response to this film was so unbelievably heartening. To see that the jury felt the same way and that among so many outstanding entries, we’ve been given the top prize is humbling. Thank you on behalf of the Eternal Spring team!”
The documentary’s unique mixed-media approach combines 3-D animations of acclaimed artist Daxiong and present-day footage to bring the story to life. Known for his popular comic book illustrations, Daxiong’s drawings depict his joyful youth growing up in Changchun, along with memories that contrast sharply with those happy times — the persecution of Falun Gong.
Brutal persecution hidden by lies
On July 20, 1999, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) banned the peaceful meditation practice. The reason was straightforward — former leader Jiang Zemin viewed Falun Gong, whose practitioners outnumbered those in the Communist Party, as a threat to his power.
Brutal persecution ensued, intending to destroy the practice in three months. Diaxong’s life and the lives of other practitioners were turned upside down. Knowing that the truth had to be told, in March 2002, eight brave practitioners banded together to hack a state TV signal, broadcasting the actual situation to millions across China.
As police raids swept Changchun City in the aftermath, Daxiong was forced to flee the home he loved. He arrived in North America, blaming the hijacking for worsening the violent repression. But his views are challenged when he met the sole living survivor of the incident that escaped China.
A new perspective
It was not until years after that incident that Daxiong visited the survivor, and as they talked, he drew pictures of the events the survivor shared with him. Daxiong began to understand things in a new light and came to appreciate the courage of the eight brave practitioners. The vivid pictures recreate the dramatic events that took place, and as every detail is scrawled across the pages of his artwork and enlarges into reality, the main characters come to life on the screen and in our hearts.
As Daxiong talked with the survivor, he learned that the hijacking mastermind was a practitioner named Liang. After realizing that prior attempts using flyers and banners to counteract the CCP’s lies about his faith were not enough, his idea of broadcasting the truth over the TV station evolved into a plan of action.
Liu Chengjun, known as Big Truck, is another main character in the story. Once a ruffian, Big Truck turned over a new leaf after learning Falun Dafa, becoming a kind and good person. However, after being wrongly detained for practicing his faith, he escaped over the prison walls and found himself a key figure in pulling off the TV station heist.
Thoughts of an audience member
As I watched the film, I could see Daxiong, the artist, whose talent for drawing was going through a wave of sorting out the story as the plot unfolded on the big screen. After considering the event from many angles, he gained a new perspective on the heist.
One point of interest is that Changchun, the city where the events occurred, translates into English as “Eternal Spring.” Knowing this gave the film so much meaning. I was in awe as I took in the drawings of people in dragon costumes walking down the streets of Changchun while watching a young Daxiong explore and show us his great city. The name “Eternal Spring” fits the city perfectly.
One moment that brought a smile to my face was when a child saw a balloon reflected in the window, flying high in the sky overhead, with a banner reading “Falun Dafa is good” attached. It was one of many balloons flying over the streets that day, and when someone in a high-rise building popped one, flyers rained down over the city, telling the truth about Falun Gong.
After the film concluded, Loftus graciously answered audience questions, describing some of his filmmaking processes. He shared that his inspiration for making the film came after learning about Daxiong’s reason for leaving Changchun. Loftus talked about the persecution and how it is still occurring today.
Many Falun Gong practitioners coming out of China have heroic tales to tell. Jason Loftus was encouraged by their bravery and could tell their story in the comfort of the free world. When the Chinese government attempted to stop him by threatening his company and his family, he did not back down and continued filming. Refusing to be intimidated, he even wrote an article in a popular newspaper exposing the Chinese Communist Party’s threats.
Hope for the future
This year marks the 23rd anniversary of the peaceful protest of Falun Gong practitioners against the persecution in China. Bringing this film to Melbourne has helped people see the true nature of the CCP and how they deal with people of faith.
Today, 100 million people in over 100 countries practice Falun Gong. Thanks to the practice, practitioners have gained many health benefits, learned to examine themselves, and become better people. People often ask why the CCP is against the practice. Watching the film will not only provide an answer, but it will do so in a remarkably creative and unprecedented way.
Please watch the movie trailer of the film Eternal Spring:
As Eternal Spring continues to travel the world, so be sure to look for a screening near you.