There were a number of good reasons why after six years of production, Canadian director/producer Jason Loftus chose the 24th edition of the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival (TDF) in March for the world premiere of his unique mixed-media feature-length documentary, Eternal Spring: The Heist of China’s Airwaves.

The documentary which won the festival’s “Peter Wintonick” Fischer Audience Award (Best International Feature) and the Hellenic Parliament’s Human Values Award, went on to more success at a number of prestigious festivals including this month’s Melbourne Documentary Film Festival held at the Nova Cinema which will hold additional screenings on August 5 and 7.

“I had worked on the film for six years and had carried out small test screenings. The TDF was the first big audience to see the film. We made the film in the wide format for the big screen and with the pandemic we didn’t know if that would be available to us. We were very fortunate that as we finished festivals like Thessaloniki were returning to in-person screenings,” Mr Loftus told Neos Kosmos.

Jason Loftus was the producer and director of Eternal Spring: The Heist of China’s Airwaves winner. It is his second documentary. Photo: Lofty Sky Entertainment

The documentary relates to events that followed the Chinese government’s crackdown of the Falun Gong movement in the 1999. Members of the movement which is based on Buddhist and Daoist principles and Tai Chi-like physical exercises, briefly took control of television broadcasts in Changchun City to counter the government propaganda against their movement.

Eternal Spring makes magnificent use of the work of illustrator and comic artist Daxiong (Guo Jingxiong) whose work has received numerous awards in China and in the West his work has featured in graphic novellas such as Star Wars: Adventures: Luke Skywalker and Justice League of America among others. Daxiong is a native of Changchun and lived through the events covered in the film. He was also the conduit through whom the survivors channel their experiences of the event. He is there when they talk and the illustrations that he draws stirs their memories and also drive the narrative.

Police stage a violent arrest in a graphic scene from Eternal Spring. Photo: Lofty Sky Pictures

“Daxiong has amazing talent and I was very fortunate to have him collaborate as an artist in telling his personal story,” Mr Loftus said.

“In Thessaloniki, the audience was sombre and quiet at the end of the screening. I did not know how they felt about it until the Question-and-Answer session – the questions flooded in and the session had to be cut off to make way for other screenings. I was answering more questions in the lobby,” said Mr Loftus. “As a filmmaker it was very heartening to have people connecting with the film after all that hard work.”

Film participant “Mr. White,” was an actual member of the TV hijacking operation in Changchun that is the subject of Eternal Spring: The Heist of China’s Airwaves. Photo: Lofty Sky Pictures

The TDF has a reputation as a strong international festival, he said. The fact that the same team that is in charge of the Thessaloniki Film Festival as the TDF, means that the works that finally make it on the festival screen have been vetted by people who know film and their selections draw the attention of the big film distributors, agents and the media.

“For a film to get onto the festival, the organisers will have already seen hundreds of films. So the major players will come to see what has been selected.”

Thanks to the film’s success in Thessaloniki, an agent contacted Mr Loftus company Lofty Sky Pictures and has already helped to seal a number of deals for it to be screened elsewhere. Mr Loftus said that the film would be screened commercially in a number of American cities which would further qualify the film for a number of awards – including the Academy Awards if it meets the right criteria.

Artist/illustrator Daxiong (Guo Jingxiong) at work during the making of Eternal Spring. (Photo: Lofty Sky Pictures

For Mr Loftus attending the TDF was also an opportunity for him to bring his wife, Masha and their two sons to Greece for a bit of tourism.

“Masha, who is Chinese, found a lot of connections with the Greek people -both China and Greece are old cultures with long histories. We toured Athens and Santorini before going to Thessaloniki for the festival.”