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‘Eternal Spring’ Film Brings Real-Life Heroes to the Screen

The creators of this Oscar-buzz documentary share their challenges and breakthroughs.

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“Even in the midst of suffering or hardship, there’s hope. There’s something universal about stories that show people standing up in the face of adversity.”
—Jason Loftus

In their recent film Eternal Spring, Canadian director-writer Jason Loftus and acclaimed comic book artist Daxiong tell an unforgettable story about real-life heroes.

Director Jason Loftus (left) and illustrator Daxiong (right) working together on Eternal Spring. The Canadian documentary about real-life heroes has won 16 festival honours and has qualified in three Oscar categories for 2023.

“Heroes aren’t those with superpowers,” says Daxiong, an accomplished Chinese-Canadian illustrator who has worked on both Justice League and Star Wars comics. “A hero is someone who even when feeling weak can still find the courage to stand up against evil.”

Their documentary Eternal Spring, an early Oscar contender, weaves animation, live-action, and archival footage to tell the story of a daring feat in recent Chinese history.


In 2002, 18 individuals worked together to tap into the Chinese state television in the city of Changchun to broadcast the truth about their persecuted meditation practice. For the preceding three years, all media in China had been working to demonize Falun Dafa (also known as Falun Gong) in order to justify the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s campaign to eradicate it.

Wishing to show their fellow citizens the truth about their practice and its principles of truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance, the brave individuals did something that nobody had succeeded in doing before. For 45 minutes, they broadcast the suppressed truth on the tapped state-run media channels.

A drawing of participants involved in the state TV hacking. Artwork for Eternal Spring, Canada’s entry to the 2023 Academy Awards.

The Chinese people watched their television stations breathlessly, thinking that the CCP had abandoned its persecution of the peaceful practice, which had only recently filled parks with thousands of people practicing its gentle exercises. Yet the reality was far from that.

Enraged by this daring feat, the CCP-directed police raided thousands of homes in the city. In the first 10 days, the police killed at least six individuals connected to the event.

Daxiong, a native of Changchun and a Falun Gong practitioner, lived through this tragedy 20 years ago.

“We have an artist who was personally, deeply affected by these events,” Loftus says. “He’s been detained, tortured, and separated from his homeland. He carries the trauma with him, and this is reflected in his artwork. This film was an opportunity to pull the curtain back and see the artistic process playing out.”

Unquenchable hope

Six years in the making, the film harmonizes two filmmaking styles—animation and documentary—to recreate the event through the lens and pen of Daxiong, who was deeply affected by the event.

“A big part of Daxiong’s story is how he connected with the individuals who were behind the broadcasting,” Loftus says.

The camera follows the artist as he copes with his trauma by drawing and interviewing witnesses and survivors of the heroic feat twenty years ago.

“When persecution by the government starts, you have two choices: you can either stand up for what you think is right, or you can remain silent. These people chose to stand up,” Daxiong says.

“When I was creating these characters, I couldn’t just draw. I wasn’t a drawing machine. I had to experience their experiences. I had to know what they were feeling. Through that, I got to know their spirit. Their spirit became part of me, healing me.”

The interviews Daxiong conducted with the survivors who escaped China left a deep impression on him. That’s because he realized that the persecution, ridicule, and physical torture they experienced didn’t wipe out their belief and optimism for the future. On the contrary, these Falun Gong practitioners were continuing to do what they did back in Changchun—tell the world the truth.

“They’re covered in scars, but they still carry hope,” Daxiong says.

A young Daxiong notices the newly blooming plum blossoms, flowers that symbolize strength and perseverance amid adversity.

He represents that hope with an image of the plum blossom, a flower that in Chinese culture symbolizes strength amidst adversity. In the film, we see images of falling buds during the harsh persecution and of snow burying the branches. But once the state media airwaves are tapped to spread the truth, the plum blossoms bloom again.“

Even in the midst of suffering or hardship, there’s hope. There’s something universal about stories that show people standing up in the face of adversity,” Loftus says.

An artist’s journey

Daxiong started the project first by sketching images of Changchun, his hometown. The drawings focused on details of everyday life, such as food trolleys and taxi cabs, as well as on the playful, warm bonds between friends and family.

“I wanted everyone to feel like they were really part of the city, that the city was something very close and personal to them,” Daxiong says.

A young Daxiong shown in a childhood memory in Northeast China during happier times.

He presents these memories in colourful images, creating a fairytale-like atmosphere for the viewer. But the beautiful images end in 1999 as the persecution of Falun Gong starts.

Falun Gong was introduced to the public in China in 1992, attracting between 70 to 100 million practitioners by the late 90s (by the government’s own estimates). In 1999, the CCP launched an extensive persecution of the practice, fearing that the regime’s power was threatened by Falun Gong’s large following. Since then, millions have been detained, often facing torture and death.

“When I was young, I thought I was talented in art. I had a lot of youthful ambitions and dreams. But when the brutal persecution of Falun Gong started, it forced me to face the cruelty of this world,” Daxiong says.

The artist uses a dull, grey palette to reflect the dark, heavy atmosphere during the violent persecution and the state-run media campaign that accompanied it.

“The greyness reflects this layer of dust on people’s hearts that was just smothering them,” Daxiong says.

In 2002, after the tapped broadcast, the persecution severely intensified for tens of thousands of innocent ordinary citizens in Changchun. Daxiong was among them.

To depict the chaos and terror, the movie animates him running from his own brushstrokes as imposing figures arrest and beat local practitioners.


“Daxiong wanted to capture the feeling of what it was like with police trying to arrest and capture you at every turn,” Loftus says.

By looking back through this traumatic time, Daxiong has found new understanding and healing. As he drew the characters, he got to know them and their motivations intimately. In a way, these characters became a part of him, giving him hope and strength.

More than twenty years since that broadcast, however, the persecution of Falun Gong continues in China, and Daxiong and the Eternal Spring filmmakers haven’t escaped unscathed.

The day after Canada selected the film as its entry in the international film category at the Academy Awards, the Chinese government banned all of Daxiong’s books and artwork from being sold in mainland China. His family members back home have also been regularly harassed.

“These are difficult stories to tell,” Loftus says. “The people involved who are coming from China deserve our attention and support for the courage they’ve demonstrated.”

Yet Daxiong believes that the entire filmmaking process has fortified him both personally and professionally.

“I can’t just think about myself. I’m responsible for the next generation, for the future of China and the world. I hope my art can show people the beauty of humanity,” he says.

This story is from Magnifissance Issue 117

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