Combining 3D animation and interview footage, the new documentary Eternal Spring transports the viewer back to Communist China in 2006. Retracing the life of comic book illustrator Daxiong and a team of Chinese activists, the film follows the events leading up to a daring plan to hack into the state’s television broadcast in order to help speak out against their propaganda.
Directed by Jason Loftus, Eternal Spring is a fascinating documentary that bridges the gap between thriller and spiritual inquest. As he delves into the story of China’s television hijacking, Loftus tells his story with such enthusiasm that one cannot help but be caught up in the heist. Based upon Daxiong’s stunning graphic novels, the animation is often eye-popping and entertaining, infusing the film with the energy and style that defines the very best of heist thrillers.
Interestingly, extensive use of animation within documentaries can often allow for a certain level disconnect from the storytelling as a viewer. (For example, last year’s Oscar-nominated doc Flee is an excellent example of a film that uses its colourful animation to create a safe distance from the personal nature of the storytelling.) However, Spring never allows the viewer to feel too disconnected from reality. By introducing us to some of the players involved and showing photos of those who are no longer with us, Loftus keeps the story very much on the ground. By balancing animated recreations with a dose of reality, the viewer is never allowed to lose sight of the fact that the story is true and continues to impact culture today.
As a result, Eternal Springs works on the number of levels. For example, through his exploration of the heist narrative, Loftus explores the nature of heroism. Whereas a Daxiong initially views his heroes of his past with a certain admiration, the film highlights the importance of social action today. Through the risks taken by these men and women, Springs recognizes the heroic acts of those who fight for the rights of others in our current culture, as opposed to hundreds of years ago. This argument bends the film towards its social justice roots, a theme that one doesn’t usually find within heist thrillers. Our investment in these men and women is not simply because they’re the protagonists.
We cheer for them because they’re fighting for the people.
At the same time though, Springs is also a fascinating exploration on the impact of spiritual health in an environment of control. Although the ancient Buddhist practice of Falon Gong is one that preaches peace and nonviolence, its popularity and roots within tradition seem to be a threat to communist ideologies. As a result, the Communist Party attempts to eradicate it from the hearts and minds of the people. However, as these militant and women recognize, there’s also hope that lies within the practice that brings healing to its participants. In this way, the film also notes the value of spirituality in times of oppression by providing hope for those that have none.
Sharply executed, Eternal Spring is absolute thrill from start to finish. Through his enthusiastic story-telling, Loftus unravels a gripping story of truth and justice. More than this though, Springs also points to the importance of spiritual healing, especially at the hands of persecution.
Eternal Spring is available in theatres on Friday, September 23rd, 2022.