Crackdowns in China seem to be in the news a lot lately, making Jason Loftus’s film Eternal Spring all the more timely. The protagonist of this hybrid documentary is a brilliant Chinese artist named Daxiong, who was forced into exile because of his affiliation with a movement known as Falun Gong, a controversial New Age self-help group that became increasingly threatening to the authorities as it grew in size. In 1999, president Jiang Zemin finally outlawed the organization, leading to imprisonments and death.
Speaking at Deadline’s Contenders Film: International award-season event, Loftus described the premise of the film. “It’s a mostly animated documentary,” he said, “that focuses on the dramatic hijacking of the state TV airwaves [in 2002] by a group of Falun Gong adherents. It was an effort to counter the government narrative and the misinformation that had been underpinning the persecution they were facing, and so they felt they had no recourse except to take over the airways themselves, because leaflets and such just weren’t enough.”
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Loftus had been aware of the story as a news item, but he and producer Masha Loftus’ foray into this subject was initiated by Daxiong, who had drawn for Justice League and Star Wars and had even drawn with Jin Yong, the leading kung fu novelist in China.
Said Loftus, “We were making a game called Shuyan Saga that featured a lot of hand-drawn comic panels, and we’d heard about Daxiong and his work. So we invited him up to Toronto. We were collaborating together and we learned that Daxiong came from the same hometown as Masha, a city in northeast China, but [they’d had] very different experiences. Masha doesn’t practice Falun Gong and she’s the daughter of a mid-level government official, while Daxiong obviously had experienced some brief imprisonment and torture [because of] this event. He wanted to understand it, so we went on this journey together, and he used his pen to bring to life the stories of other witnesses. It’s kind of a shared history of shared memory.”
Inevitably, this was easier said than done. “It’s close to six years from the time that we first had the idea for this story,” said Loftus, “and the complications in the filmmaking process — trying to do both the documentary and the animation components — made it last longer than you might expect, because it was such a small team. So we just chipped away at this passion project until we brought it to where it is now.”
Check back Monday for the panel video.