“Eternal Spring,” an animated documentary about religious persecution in China, will be Canada’s contender for a nomination in the Best International Feature Film category at next year’s Academy Awards.
Telefilm Canada announced Wednesday that it would submit Jason Loftus’s film for consideration in the category formerly called Best Foreign Language Film, a move the filmmaker hopes will draw further attention to human rights abuses in China.
The movie tells the story of the banned spiritual group Falun Gong, who were targeted by police raids after a faction of members hacked into a state TV signal in 2002 in an effort to correct the record about their practice.
The comic book illustrator Daxiong, a Falun Gong practitioner, was forced to flee to North America, and initially blamed the hijacking for worsening the group’s violent repression. He changes his mind after meeting the only known surviving hacker to escape China.
The Mandarin-language film combines present-day footage and 3D animation inspired by Daxiong’s art.
“It felt deeply rewarding to be able to carry on, with these people, the story that they weren’t able to get to share widely,” Loftus said in a virtual press conference announcing the selection. “Some people suffered so much or are no longer with us.”
He said spotlighting wrongdoing in China can be risky for a filmmaker. The Chinese government is a powerful player in business, and Loftus said some festivals have opted not to screen “Eternal Spring” because of it.
“There’s a whole lot of people who really feel strongly that the stories are important to tell,” he said. “Perhaps even because they are sensitive, it’s even more important to tell them.”
A pan-Canadian selection committee of 20 members from various government agencies and film industry associations chose the movie.
It’s the first time Canada will submit an animated feature, a documentary and a Mandarin-language film for consideration, said Telefilm Canada CEO Christa Dickenson.
“It really shows where stories are going, and the type of creators and stories that Canada and the system is supporting,” she said.
The Academy accepts only one submission in the category from each country for consideration. If selected, “Eternal Spring” would become the ninth Canadian movie to receive an Oscar nomination in the category.
Only one — Denys Arcand’s “Les Invasions barbares” — has ever won, in 2004.
“Eternal Spring” has already played at several festivals, and will hit Canadian theatres across Canada on Sept. 23 — a condition of eligibility in the multistage Oscars race.
The Academy will release a short list of 15 films on Dec. 21, and the nominees will be announced Jan. 24.
The Oscars ceremony is set for March 12.
—Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press