The heavily-animated documentary Eternal Spring (長春) will represent Canada in the Oscars’ international feature film category, Telefilm Canada has announced.

If nominated, this would be a three-way first for Canada in the category: first animated, first documentary, and first Mandarin-language feature film. Canada’s decision to submit an animated documentary may be helped by this year’s nomination of Danish film Flee, which made all kinds of history at the Oscars.

Spring revisits the March 2002 hacking of a Chinese television signal by state-banned spiritual group Falun Gong on the 20th anniversary of the event. The story is centered around comic book illustrator Daxiong (Justice League, Star Wars) who, as a Falun Gong follower, was forced to flee China when the signal hack triggered police raids.

Director, writer, and producer Jason Loftus (2015 Peabody Award winner for feature documentary Human Harvest) initially met Daxiong while working together on video game Shuyan Saga. He dimension to the story through a combination of present-day live-action eyewitness accounts and animated cg re-enactments inspired by Daxiong’s illustration style.

In his director’s statement, Loftus spoke of the importance he saw in telling this story now:

Eternal Spring explores religious persecution at a time when similar abuses continue against millions of Uighur Muslims in northwest China. It is also a story about media censorship, misinformation, the need for transparency, and freedom of speech. These themes are crucial in the wake of controversies around transparency in the reporting of important public health information at the onset of what’s now a global pandemic.”

The feature was chosen by Telefilm’s selection committee from among 16 pan-Canadian entries. It was selected “for having the best chance of positioning itself well in the multi-stage Oscar race,” according to Telefilm’s executive director and CEO Christa Dickenson.

Loftus said of the selection to represent Canada:

“Being nominated to represent Canada for best international film at the 95th Academy Awards is an immense honor. Eternal Spring is a product of Canada’s creativity, diversity, and tolerance. Through Daxiong’s story and art, as well as the talent of our Quebec-based animation team, we hope this universal tale of courage in the face of injustice and repression resonates worldwide.”

Spring has won numerous festival awards since its Thessaloniki Documentary Festival debut in March, including two audience awards at Toronto’s Hot Docs in May. The film will be released in Canada on September 23 and in the United States on October 14.

The Spring team includes co-writers Masha Loftus (also the executive producer) and the Pearman Brothers, and producers Yvan Pinard and Kevin Koo. Loftus’ Lofty Sky Entertainment produced the film and Sideways Film is the international sales agent. The animation team was led by animation director David St-Amant.

Seven countries have currently submitted their Academy entries for the international film category. Eternal Spring is the only animated entry thus far, but there’s still a long way to go this season. A shortlist of 15 films will be unveiled on December 21, 2022, and the five nominees will be announced on January 24, 2023.

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