Director Jason Loftus on the Challenges and Triumphs of Making Eternal Spring
Jan 2, 2023
Jason Loftus first met comics artist and publisher Daxiong in 2016. Loftus’ digital media company Lofty Sky Entertainment was working on a video game, and they needed an illustrator to create the game’s visual novel components. Because of his background in drawing different Justice League and Star Wars comic book series, Daxiong was the perfect fit. Indeed, it would, in retrospect, seem that the two were fated to meet. “We learned that Daxiong came from the same hometown as my wife and producing partner, Masha Loftus, which is a city in northeast China called Changchun,” Loftus said in our Zoom interview. In discovering this connection, Loftus inadvertently unearthed the story for his latest film Eternal Spring, too.
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Mixing animation with live action, Eternal Spring is an animated documentary that provides an unflinching look at a group of Falun Gong activists in 2002 who, in an effort to course-correct the misinformation being willfully spread about their community by the Chinese government, decides to hijack Chinese state television in Changchun. Between strict censorship laws and the government’s repression of religious freedom, the Falun Gong activists’ actions are deemed a crime. What ensues after the hijacking is a calculated and violent raid of the homes of suspected Falun Gong practitioners and activists by Chinese officials, which results in the imprisonment, torture, displacement, and even deaths of those involved. A Falun Gong practitioner, Daxiong was forced to flee Changchun for his own safety, even though he played no part in the hijacking itself.
“My wife was the daughter of a mid-level government official in China, so she had not really had exposure to any dissident or persecuted groups. For her, hearing [from Daxiong] what had happened under her nose in her own hometown, it really hit home. She was adamant that this was an important story for Chinese people to be aware of.” For Loftus, who discovered Falun Gong in the 90s, his interest was in the subject, specifically, the “human rights situation [and] the concern for religious freedom, the plight of Falun Gong, and this feeling that these people were misunderstood and mis-portrayed.”
On Marrying His and Daxiong’s Creative Sensibilities
Lofty Sky Pictures
“The idea of an animated documentary had always interested me, but I had always seen animation in documentaries as this sort of decision by the invisible hand of the director: you see the art, you see the animation, but you don’t know what subjective decisions are going into the creation of that art,” said Loftus on why he wanted Eternal Spring to mix live action footage and animation. In fact, more than providing illustrations for the film, Daxiong is also the principle subject, interviewing the Falun Gong activists involved in the 2002 hijacking, and consequently sketching out the events as they discuss in real-time. “[I loved] the idea of pulling back the curtain and seeing the artistic process play on-screen. We see an artist whose life has been impacted deeply by this event. He wants to understand it.”
Arriving at a balance between his directorial vision and Daxiong’s perspective as an artist required, according to Loftus, “a lot of trial and error.” For the filmmaker, the goal was being able to “make it feel as though it’s Daxiong’s art, but take that still 2D look that he has and bring it life a CG-animated environment, and give people a sense of place, really bring them into his mind.” The result is a fluid journey through time via Daxiong’s art. The opening scene, for instance, starts in live action before literally diving into the page. Once there, we see an animated rendering of the city-wide raid, filmed in one take. Even though it’s animation, the brutality of this moment in history is no less horrifying to see.
Related: Eternal Spring Review: Canada’s Official Submission into the Oscars Race is a Must-Watch
On the Consequences, Good and Bad, of Making Eternal Spring
Lofty Sky Pictures
For Loftus and Daxiong, making Eternal Spring wasn’t without its repercussions, specifically from the Chinese government. The aforementioned video game that the pair was collaborating on, called Shuyan Saga, was one major casualty. “That game was being published by Tencent, which is a major media company in China and one of the largest players in the gaming space, internationally,” Loftus said. The game had already been advertised on the company’s Wii platform, which boasted over 200 million users at the time, and all was cleared by the government’s censorship offices. But then, just before launch, the game disappeared from the platform. “I was told, ‘It wasn’t an issue of the game. It’s an issue of you and your company.’ And I was asked, ‘Are you doing something not aligned with the Chinese government’s direction?'” What’s more, family members of Loftus’ wife in China were being contacted by the Public Security Bureau, a signal to Loftus that the government was aware of who his family was in the country.
Daxiong, too, experienced personal and professional ramifications from the Chinese government. When it was announced that Canada had chosen Eternal Spring as its submission into this year’s Oscars race in the Best International Feature Film category (via THR), the artist was put on a list of banned authors in China. His relatives have also experienced harassment from authorities, as well as everyone who has collaborated with him. This, of course, doesn’t change how proud Loftus and Daxiong are of their documentary, especially with how positively it’s been received by the public and, now, its journey towards Oscar gold. “I feel really encouraged because we see people resonating with it. It’s important that we have this conversation. It’s important that we help shine a light on their stories,” Loftus said. “We’re also shining a light on some great talent that we have in animation and in documentaries in Canada that has never been featured in this context before. We’re humbled, and we’re also really thrilled.”
Eternal Spring is now playing in select theaters.
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