A documentary about 18 brave Chinese who hijacked Beijing-controlled media to broadcast uncensored news about the state-backed persecution of Falun Gong practitioners has won two major Canadian film awards.
“Eternal Spring,” directed by Toronto’s Jason Loftus, is an animated documentary that looks at the 2002 circumvention of a Chinese state television station.
The story and animation by acclaimed Chinese comic-book illustrator Daxiong piece together events that occurred 20 years previously in his homeland, when he and fellow practitioners of the meditative practice Falun Gong became targets of brutal persecution by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in the late 1990s.
On May 8, “Eternal Spring” won both the Rogers Audience Award for Best Canadian Feature and the Hot Docs Audience Award, out of 225 films screened during the 11-day Hot Docs Festival. Hot Docs is the largest documentary film festival in North America, with films from 63 countries participating this year.
Winning first place in the Rogers Audience Award comes with the top prize of $25,000. Second place went to Mark Bone’s “Okay! (The ASD Band Film)” with a $15,000 cash prize, while the third place and a $10,000 cash prize was awarded to Barri Cohen’s “Unloved: Huronia’s Forgotten Children.”
“Eternal Spring” will have its U.S. premiere in New York City at the prestigious Human Rights Watch Film Festival on May 23 when the film will be shown at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center—a multi-screen theatre in the heart of the Lincoln Center compound. It will also be shown at the IFC Center on May 24.
Harrowing True Story
“Eternal Spring” documents the memories of Daxiong, a Falun Gong practitioner, who fled China after police began cracking down on members of the spiritual group on the order of former CCP leader Jiang Zemin, who perceived Falun Gong’s widespread popularity to be a threat to the regime’s totalitarian rule.
Also called Falun Dafa, the practice is based on meditative exercises and moral teaching grounded in the tenets of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance. Within a short span of seven years after it was introduced in China in May 1992, the benefits of Falun Gong to practitioners’ physical and mental health attracted 70 to 100 million adherents in the country, according to official estimates.
In the early stage of its oppression campaign, the CCP’s mouthpiece Xinhua News Agency broadcast video clips of a so-called “Tiananmen self-immolation” incident in which five individuals were seen setting themselves on fire in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. Xinhua claimed the five were Falun Gong practitioners who burned themselves in a religious suicide attempt, despite the fact that suicide is strictly prohibited by the practice’s teachings.
The incident was used by the CCP to claim that Falun Gong is an “evil” religion that deserved to be wiped out and its persecution justified. As a result, many Chinese citizens proactively turned in their co-workers, neighbours, and even family members who practiced Falun Gong in the belief that they were brainwashed and dangerous.
To get their side of the story out to Chinese citizens, 18 Falun Gong practitioners in Changchun City hijacked a state cable television network on March 5, 2002, and broadcast the videos “Self-immolation or Hoax?” and “Falun Dafa Spreads Worldwide” on eight channels simultaneously to 300,000 cable subscribers in the city.
Within days of the tapping effort in Changchun, more than 5,000 Falun Gong practitioners in the city and nearby area were arrested in a massive sweep by the authorities. At least seven practitioners were beaten to death just days later.
Daxiong was forced to flee in the wake of the police raids. He recalls the event in the animated film resulting from his interviews with the sole survivor who participated in the daring television station hijacking, and depicts the sacrifices of the 18 brave individuals who stood up against threats of violence and death in defense of the rights and freedoms of the people of China.
The CCP’s persecution against Falun Gong remains ongoing today, with countless Chinese citizens who practice or support the Buddhist-style cultivation being arbitrarily imprisoned and subjected to forced labour, torture, and abuse.