An Interview With Jason Loftus Director of the Documentary "Eternal Spring"
This week sees the U.S. premier of "Eternal Spring," an animated documentary about the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) merciless crackdown on "Falun Gong" (literal English translation: Great Dharma Wheel Practice), a peaceful, spiritual practice which started in the early 1990s in Changchun, the capital and largest city in the northeast province of Jilin.
In the movie (the best documentary I’ve seen so far this year), a dozen or so members of Falun Gong, in an effort to counter the misinformation being propagated by the CCP and broadcast on state-run television, decide to set the record straight.
Labeled a threat and danger to the state, Falun Gong is anything but that.
In order to display to their fellow countrymen the facts they hack into a news broadcast and show their self-produced video containing the correct information regarding their benevolent actions and intents.
The bulk of the film focuses on the fallout of the March, 2002 watershed event while going into detail of the fates of those that participated.
I recently had the opportunity to interview Jason Loftus, the Peabody Award-winning filmmaker of "Eternal Spring" only days after he was notified the movie was submitted by his home country (Canada) to the Academy Awards nominating committee for consideration in the Best International Feature category.
The high-end graphics seen in the film are based on the works of renowned comic-book artist Daxiong, also a Falun Gong practitioner, now living in Canada.
Michael Clark: I read that the CCP banned the books of Daxoing the day after the Academy Award submission was announced — is that correct?
Jason Loftus: Yes, he was banned along with other prominent Chinese authors. This was followed by the authorities pressuring his family and many of his professional collaborators.
MC: This isn’t the first instance of CCP blowback regarding your film, is it?
JL: No. My wife Masha, who is also my producing partner, is from Changchun and we were working with Daxoing on a video game which was removed from circulation just as it was being released. This was odd as it had already been approved by two CCP censorship committees, but I was asked by the publisher if I was doing something "not aligned" with the CCP direction. Masha’s family in China was also harassed by the authorities.
MC: According to wikipedia.com, the literal English translation of Changchun is "eternal spring." Is that why you chose it as the title?
JL: Yes, that and we wanted to convey feelings of optimism and hope. We included images of the plum blossom, a flower that blooms in winter as a metaphor for the idea that things will get better even amidst the suffering and tribulation. This was the spirit I witnessed in the survivors we spoke with and wanted to reflect it. "Spring" is also what is used to describe a movement for freedom, as in Prague Spring or Arab Spring so I liked that the title conveyed this ongoing resistance.
MC: When watching the movie I couldn’t help making the comparison to what took place then and what is going on now in the U.S. with the leftist media and the demonization of the MAGA movement. Can you see how that connection could be made?
JL: I think the ideas in the film are universal so people will see different parallels depending on their experiences. It’s about finding the courage to speak up in the face of injustice and the idea of an entire narrative being under the control of any single entity, force, or individual. The misinformation that has underpinned the persecution in China is definitely a concern but to my mind, the biggest problem wasn’t actually the slanderous propaganda, but the inability for anyone to speak up in the face of it. The only way to keep checks and balances on misinformation is to have the ability and right for all voices to be heard.
MC: What the current situation in China regarding Falun Gong?
JL: I think what tends to happen with any human rights concern is that it’s news while it’s new and, by nature, there’s compassion fatigue that eventually sets in because of other tragedies in the world and the focus gets shifted somewhere else. The fact that we’re not hearing about it doesn’t mean things have changed or gotten any better and that’s one of the things I hope this film can shine a light on.
MC: Your movie isn’t 100 percent animated. Does that prevent it from being considered for awards in that category?
JL: No, as long as the animation makes up at least 75 percent of the content, it would qualify and that’s something the Academy is currently reviewing with our film. It’s a unique situation as we have a combination of CGI, motion graphics, 3D and traditional animation alongside small amounts of live-action. We’re also looking at the creative journey of an artist and the role art plays in bringing new ideas and new understandings, themes that I think those in the animation field will appreciate.
MC: "Eternal Spring" also qualifies a documentary. Do you think the Academy will consider it in that category as well?
JL: It’s already been submitted in the Documentary Feature category and because it already was submitted by Canada the additional requirements for documentaries are waived. The fact that "Flee" [from 2021] was nominated in all three categories opened people’s minds up in considering new dimensions and applications of animation in the documentary format.
MC: What’s your next project?
JL: I’m doing a few things. I’m working on another narrative video game, a sci-fi animated series, and I’m completing a VR [virtual reality] short film that is related to "Eternal Spring." I think VR is powerful not so much for linear storytelling but for putting yourself in someone else’s shoes; allowing you to develop empathy by living through other’s experiences. I like to work in different mediums because I feel they each have their own strengths.
Originally from Washington, D.C., Michael Clark has written for over 30 local and national film industry media outlets and is based in the Atlanta Top 10 media marketplace. He co-founded the Atlanta Film Critics Circle in 2017 and is a regular contributor to the Shannon Burke Show on floridamanradio.com. Over the last 25 years, Mr. Clark has written over 4,000 movie reviews and film-related articles and is one of the scant few conservative U.S. movie critics. Read Michael Clark's Reports — More Here.
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