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#HotDocs22 Review: Eternal Spring

May 9, 2022

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The 2022 Hot Docs Film Festival ran from April 28th to May 8th in Toronto, more information on tickets and showtimes can be found right here.

In 2002, following the Chinese communist government’s violent crackdown on practitioners of Falun Gong, a group of activists in Changchun hijacked a state-run TV station. They risked imprisonment and their lives to broadcast a video countering official propaganda about this peaceful spiritual movement, which was banned by the one-party dictatorship in 1999 to uphold the country’s “atheist beliefs.”

Director Jason Loftus recounts the story of this hijacking in his artfully crafted hybrid documentary Eternal Spring (winner of both the Hot Docs Audience Award and Rogers Audience Award for Best Canadian Documentary). The film centres around Daxiong, a comic book artist and Falun Gong practitioner who had to flee his home in Changchun due to persecution for his beliefs following the media takeover. Daxiong escaped to Toronto, and has always had mixed feelings around the hijacking, but he is now using his drawings to tell the story of the event two decades later.

The film opens with an overhead shot of Daxiong working on a drawing of Changchun at his desk, with the camera swooping down and taking us into the storyboard, which then opens up into a 3D model. The virtual camera takes us through an animated version of the city in a single take, flying through windows and in and out of buildings to show the violent arrests of the hijackers. What follows is an ambitious film that employs a non-linear narrative structure and unfolds across three layers; live-action interviews, animated re-enactments, and footage showing the behind the scenes of these animated sequences.

Loftus follows Daxiong as he meets with Mr. White, the only one of the hijackers who was able to leave China, at his home in Seoul, South Korea, piecing together the events surrounding the hijacking and the brave people involved. The somewhat meta, film-within-a-film approach allows Eternal Spring to offer an engaging recreation of the hijacking and its aftermath through vivid animation, while seamlessly cutting back and forth with the emotional interviews. The film’s graphic novel-style visuals are matched by Thomas William Hill’s stirring musical score.

I was already aware of the persecution faced by practitioners of Falun Gong from other documentaries on the subject, and Eternal Spring puts the full scope of the crackdown into sharp focus. It’s a powerful look at the persecution faced by those trying to practise their faith within an oppressive regime that censors dissenting thought, and the price that these individuals were forced to pay in order to break through the noise of government propaganda.


Tuesday, May 3rd – 8:30 PM at Varsity 8

Friday, May 6th – 5:30 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 2

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