‘Eternal Spring’ Tells Incredible Story Of Chinese State TV Hack

In March 2002, untold millions of Chinese viewers were watching state-controlled television when the program was suddenly interrupted, replaced by a video defending the Falun Gong spiritual movement from attack by the Chinese government.

This remarkable “hijacking” of primetime TV, carried out by a small group of Falun Gong supporters, is the subject of the Oscar-contending film Eternal Spring, directed and produced by Jason Loftus and produced by Masha Loftus. The film — Canada’s official entry for Best International Film at the Academy Awards – played Tuesday night as part of Deadline’s virtual screening series event For the Love of Docs.

The brazen hack “was an effort to counter the government narrative and the misinformation that had been underpinning the persecution they were facing,” Jason previously told Deadline. “They felt they had no recourse except to take over the airways themselves, because leaflets and such just weren’t enough.”

Eternal Spring has accomplished an Oscar trifecta, qualifying for consideration in three categories: International Feature Film, Documentary Feature Film, and Animated Feature Film. The animation in Eternal Spring is based on drawings by Chinese artist Daxiong (Guo Jingxiong), a practitioner of Falun Gong who was not involved himself in the TV signal hijacking, but who was arrested and later exiled during the brutal crackdown that followed the hijacking incident. Jason Loftus met Daxiong when they collaborated on a video game project in Toronto.

“He was dealing with the longing and nostalgia, being separated from his home, the pain of torture and all that that brings with it,” Jason observed during a panel discussion that followed the For the Love of Docs screening. “And you could see that reflected through his artwork. But he was willing to go on this journey and he really wanted to understand this event that had impacted his life. Just the opportunity to explore his artistic process and how that artistic process can help him to come to a new understanding and hopefully some catharsis was, for me, a new dimension to how art and animation could be used in documentary.”

Loftus explained the technical steps whereby Daxiong’s two-dimensional drawings were turned into an immersive 3-D environment.

“That, for me, allowed people to have this sense of place,” Jason said, “that they’re inside the artist’s mind and they can sort of feel what it was like for him.”

Daxiong described seeing the finished film as “a dream come true.” He added through an interpreter, “It’s marvelous. And to me, what is more important than even the beautiful picture, the animation, is the authenticity, the authentic feeling about my hometown, and specifically during that era and that time, I think that was well conveyed, and to me that’s even more important and I’m very satisfied.”

Masha Loftus had grown up in the same place as Daxiong – the city of Changchun, in Jilin Province (the city’s name means “eternal spring,” hence the title of the film). It was only after she left China that she gained a clear understanding of the repression faced by members of Falun Gong. The Chinese government initially took no issue with the spiritual movement, but when Falun Gong burgeoned in popularity, authorities banned the group. She recalled having a conversation with her father, a mid-level government official, about why members of Falun Gong would continue to practice their beliefs despite the risk, and why the government viewed the movement as a threat.

“He said, ‘Chinese people are very pragmatic. If they are willing to sacrifice so much for this belief, it must be really beneficial for them,’” she said. “However, he said under Communist rule, the party — just the party nature — cannot really tolerate anything that is out of its own control. And he said we saw that in the Soviet Union. That’s the answer he gave to me and I think makes a lot of sense.”

Chinese authorities eventually rounded up those who had pulled off the TV hijacking. Several died in prison camps and another died not long after his release, his body broken by torture. Daxiong went to visit the lone surviving person involved in the incident, “Mr. White” (Jin Xuezhe), now living in Seoul, South Korea.

“I draw a lot of superheroes from comics like Star Wars, like DC, Marvel,” Daxiong said of his artistic career. “But all these heroes that I created, I want to draw the real heroes from my real life. They live among us.”

Watch the full in the video above. Our virtual screening series event For the Love of Docs is sponsored by National Geographic.

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