As recently demonstrated by the Oscar-nominated Danish film Flee, animation can serve as a living portal to events for which there is no visual record other than the memory of those who experienced them. This formal decision resurfaces in the hybrid feature film Everlasting Spring, about the Falun Gong religion, whose adherents have been violently persecuted since the Chinese government banned the spiritual practice in 1999.
Working closely with Daxiong, a renowned Toronto comics artist and believer who fled China in fear for his life, Canadian filmmaker Jason Loftus weaves heartfelt conversations with talking heads with rich animated sequences to chronicle the group’s kidnapping by the… group to record a state television signal in a northeastern Chinese city on March 5, 2002. The bold and risky campaign unleashed more brutal retaliations against its members.
Although the documentary, Canada’s Oscar-winning international feature film this year, uses the 3-DCG animation technique, the attention to linework, shading and textures in both the human characters and the environment brings the animated segments stylistically closer to Daxiong’s Comic book art as hyperrealism. Much like the supernatural, powerful figures Daxiong draws elsewhere, the men and women deserve heroic portrayal, particularly their resilient leader Liang Zhenxing.
To piece together the schedule, Daxiong visits Seoul and New York City to meet with survivors in exile who were closely involved in staging the takeover of the airwaves to briefly combat the communist regime’s propaganda about the teachings of Falun Gong. The plan included airing a video explaining their peaceful nature. During these encounters, Daxiong sketches their memories and inevitably evokes strong emotions.
Among the many animated passages into the past, the most inspirational is one that materializes Daxiong’s childhood memories of winter in his hometown of Changchun, where Falun Gong originated and was the epicenter of oppression. For a moment, he invites us to witness a time before the horrors of torture and imprisonment have tainted his memories of his home. Loftus’ foresight to include the behind-the-scenes process as part of the story—we see Daxiong collaborating with the animation team and engaging in casual chats with the other subjects—also reinforces the direct connection between creator and creation.
While animation is available as a limitless tool, Eternal Spring largely follows a conventional narrative arc that focuses on retelling what happened and how, save for a handful of whimsical flourishes. Still, Loftus maintains a measured perspective by not focusing on Falun Gong’s worldview, turning the article into an ideological endorsement. Instead, he delves into the unchecked extent of China’s repressive tactics against any group perceived as a threat to its sanctioned indoctrination.
Deeply emotional on an emotional level, the film applauds its participants’ courage to relive a painful shared trauma and create a lasting testimony of what they suffered.
In Mandarin with English subtitles
Duration: 1 hour, 26 minutes
To play: Begins October 21 in AMC theaters
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/movies/story/2022-10-20/review-eternal-spring-animation-documentary-falun-gong-jason-loftus ‘Eternal Spring’ review: Vivid use of animation in hybrid doc