Flitting between 3D animation and present-day footage, Jason Loftus takes us on a harrowing journey in his excellent documentary Eternal Spring. The emotional retracing of Daxiong and his fellow Falun Gong members fighting against their government is an essential and integral watch. An unmissable documentary.
In March 2002, a state TV station in China was hijacked by members of the outlawed spiritual group Falun Gong. Their goal was to counter the government narrative about their practice. In the aftermath, police raids sweep Changchun City, and comic book illustrator Daxiong (Justice League, Star Wars), a Falun Gong practitioner, is forced to flee. He arrives in North America, blaming the hijacking for worsening violent repression. But his views are challenged when he meets the lone surviving participant to have escaped China, now living in Seoul, South Korea.
Due to the manner of the story within Eternal Spring, it is almost impossible to repeat this form of storytelling in a usual live-action documentary manner. Instead, by combining Daxiong’s talents as an illustrator to inform us of his past, we are given a broader look at what he and others have gone through. The animation never distracts from what you are being told, and when we flit back and forth between animation and present-day footage, you quickly adjust if there are any issues. You almost fear that when a film utilises both formats, you become jolted or distracted by what you are seeing as it bounces back and forth.
Happily, that doesn’t happen here, and at times it even enhances the overall experience, as we can feel separate from the animation as if it isn’t really happening or happened. As if we are being told a story of something fictional. Only when we return to present Daxiong do we realise how real all of what came before was. It is important to see Daxiong and others in their real form to see how those events have formed them in the years since. With the help of voiceover, see what they experienced, seeing the joys of finding Falun Gong, how hopefully everyone was with it in their lives. To then have it all slowly and aggressively taken away from them, the group have a choice to make, let go of what brought them together or stand up for their belief.
Strikingly with Eternal Spring is learning about what brought them together and why they felt they had to make this stand that gravitates you towards it. There are no big dramatic reasons why they joined together; they were a community being repressed. So, when the film moves back towards the events before the TV hijacking, you feel for these people. You know them enough so that when their world turns upside down, it hurts even more. There are feature films that struggle with this aspect. Yet, in such a short amount of time at the beginning of Eternal Spring, we can feel for every member of that group before we even learn of their fates after the hijacking.
Loftus takes us gradually through how the CCP and authorities became more aggressive with their grip on the group. Even seeing how they treated the members in one city, you can only imagine what it was like nationwide. As we get closer to the hijacking, we see the tension in the film rise even when we know what happens due to it occurring during the prologue. Nevertheless, it remains a riveting viewing. Loftus does great work keeping us gripped throughout that when we get to that final act, becoming all the more devastating.
When the group are finally captured, that tension that has been racketing up throughout the film unleashes on you when we learn of what happened after those who could not escape the authorities are captured. The more we know about their time in prisons and labour camps, the more horrendous it becomes. This is amplified by Mr White informing us here and there about what happened to one of the groups named Laing. Even or possibly because it is in animation form, each time we return to him in prison, it becomes more gut-wrenching. Your heart breaks for all of those who were captured and even left open-mouthed in shock at how they were treated.
After watching Eternal Spring, you will find yourself searching more about the group’s persecution, and you will find information that will truly shock and repulse you that has possibly been happening to thousands of people in China. But, if that is all that this film does, then it has done its job very well. It highlights issues that we in the West may not be aware of and gives us such a fantastic avenue into it—making it up to us to delve deeper into what has been going on in China.
With the assistance of the animation, Eternal Spring shows us the devastation of fighting for your rightful freedom, though like those balloons with leaflets and banners of Falun Gong shows, hope is always going to be there as long as you look for it. This is a tremendous film and one, like Flee, that you need to watch and have others watch, do not miss this one.
Eternal Spring will be playing at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival and is available to stream across the UK and Ireland between 17-25 March via https://ff.hrw.org/london
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