In this dispatch from Hot Docs 2022 reviews, we discuss three films about loss. And whether it’s the loss of innocence, family or freedom, they all share a desire to delve into the past to understand it and try to build a better future. Moreover, all three use the documentary form in bold and creative ways. Let’s talk about Jason Loftus’ Rogers People’s Choice Award winner eternal springReed Harkness’ Sat nowand Jasmine Mara Lopez silent beauty.
Despite its emphasis on meditation and moral virtues, the Falun Gong religious movement was banned in China in 1999, after which thousands of followers were prosecuted, incarcerated or killed. Rebelling against this ban and trying to counter the government’s use of the media to demonize Falun Gong, a courageous group of practitioners hijacked a television station in the city of Changchun in 2002 in an attempt to spread the truth about their beliefs. .
Twenty years later after the incident, director Jason Loftus uses the medium of animation to attempt to tell the story of the hijacking with the help of a comic book artist and Falun Gong practitioner. Daxiong (Star Wars Adventures, Justice League of America), who fled China before the prosecution escalated.
The beautiful comic book-style animation used in eternal spring is based on the art of Daxiong himself, who speaks with survivors on a daring mission to piece together events using his amazing artistry. It’s quite impressive to see Daxiong drawing people gently while witnesses describe them. But unlike recent animated docs like To run away and More than I remember, eternal spring mixes its many animated segments with interviews and live footage, which lends an interesting level of emotion to the story.
Although the amount of information and subject matter can be slightly overwhelming, and the uneven editing does not allow the nonlinear structure to fully function in its first half, eternal spring beautifully communicates the incredible bravery of those involved in the hijacking as well as the pain of oppression and exile. This is a powerful documentary that reconstructs and brings to light harrowing and unrecognized memories of trauma, imprisonment, torture and murder to highlight the importance of freedom and empower those who fight for it. .
Sat now is a beautiful and brilliant use of non-fiction where the director Reed Harassment tells the story of his beloved half-brother Sam as he comes to terms with the disappearance of his mother Joyce during his teenage years.
For years Harkness had used his Super-8 camera to create fun little movies where Sam would play the masked hero Blue Panther (using the real life mask legendary mexican luchador) to save the world. After Joyce leaves without a trace, this luchador alter-ego is then turned into a conduit to portray Sam’s search for his estranged mother. So, using a lifetime of house footage, great creativity and clever editing, Harkness showcases how Blue Panther set out to answer questions like: Where is Joyce? Why did she leave without saying a word? How do Sam and his brothers deal with his sudden absence?
The film shines with its lighthearted, thoughtful, and compassionate approach to its subjects. There’s a certain intrigue behind Joyce’s disappearance, but rather than making it a sensationalist film, Harkness focuses on exploring his half-brother’s feelings and how the event shook his whole life. . The mystery is solved fairly quickly, but its effects linger long after the fact and the director keeps shooting. the documentary not only shows Sam’s teenage life, but also his adulthood. This is a decades-long study.
Sat now is a road movie, a coming of age, a healing journey and a complex portrait of abandonment. It’s also a moving ode to the power of brotherhood, and in many ways an exposition of how a filmmaker has evolved over the years.
Jasmin Mara LopezThe feature debut of is a film of immense beauty, pain and bravery. It’s her journey as a survivor of sexual abuse told through homemade footage, poetic imagery and a powerful voiceover from the director herself.
It’s a photo of his grandfather carrying his niece that urges López to speak out about his abuse at the hands of the family patriarch. Thus, the film explores his family’s psychological response, how the abuser (who is also a Baptist minister) uses power dynamics to control the victims, and how damaging the trauma is to them. His experiences are accompanied by those of other family members and the victims of the grandfather.
López balances the tone of the film superbly. Despite the harrowing theme and heartbreaking revelations that await you around every corner, its execution is calm and poetic. Each conversation with a family member is brimming with understanding, and thanks to superb editing and use of music, the film is never overwhelming. For example, Gil Talmi’s score is deeply melancholic but also subtle and relaxing, which adds to the empathy López is trying to convey.
While tackling sexual abuse within a family, silent beauty studies how the community and the state react to the problem. As we hear Jasmin’s mother talk about her fear of the neighborhood finding out, how a cousin coped with trauma, and a story related to eviction, the film makes it clear how it is difficult for the family to understand and support an event like this, and how the State prefers to get rid of the problem, instead of finding a real solution for it.
silent beauty is a cathartic film that reaches out to survivors to comfort and empathize with them. It’s brave cinema used to understand how trauma destroys a person to try to heal and cut the circle of generational trauma.
Eternal Spring, Sam Now and Silent Beauty screened at Hot Docs 2022.
Ricardo is a Mexico City-based bilingual writer, Rotten Tomatoes Certified Film Critic, and Graduate in Digital Animation. He loves cats, Mass Effect, Paddington and is the founder of the movie website “La Estatuilla.”