'Eating Up Easter': Film Review

Courtesy of Music Box Films
Setting's novelty adds modest value to familiar eco-film.
4/22/2020

Easter Island-born Sergio M. Rapu makes a documentary about locals trying to combat an avalanche of consumer waste.

A native of the place strangers call Easter Island amplifies a call for self-rescue in Eating Up Easter, Sergio M. Rapu's eco-themed documentary. The first feature-length film from a TV veteran who lives in the U.S. but still has family ties to the island, it has much in common with an obscure 2014 doc called Yorgos, which looked specifically on how the arrival of a Hollywood crew changed the island (whose traditional name is Rapa Nui) in the early '90s: Both present an ambivalent view of outsiders' impact, lamenting the environmental cost of rising wealth while clearly not wanting to see that money disappear. Though more focused than its predecessor, Rapu's film is still somewhat scattered; its Earth Day release date only serves as a reminder of the many superior eco-docs one has seen about remote paradises threatened or destroyed by encroaching forces.

In narration written by his wife Elena Rapu, Sergio speaks throughout as if he is addressing their newborn baby — a sentimental conceit that adds nothing to the viewer's understanding of the scene. At the other end of the family tree, though, Rapu's connections are indeed relevant. His father, also named Sergio, was once governor of the island, and (having been educated in the U.S.) has eagerly imported American innovations like oversized grocery stores. (Rapu also has an uncle, seen in vintage footage, who led a 1960s movement for islanders' rights.)

The elder Sergio is building a small shopping mall when we meet him, preparing to supply locals who have a much higher per capita income than other citizens of Chile. (Rapa Nui is a special territory of that nation, despite being over 2,000 miles away from it.) That income is thanks to the explosive growth of tourism in recent decades: Travelers come to see the ancient head-statues called moai, and it seems that nearly every Rapanui works in tourism.

But what happens to all the packaging from the goods Sergio Sr. imports to the island? The film visits vast dumps that mar local scenery, and lionizes an irascible old woman trying to recycle as much of that garbage as possible. Known as Mama Piru, she once lived in Europe and campaigned for the return of ethnographic art taken by early explorers; now, she's busy trying to get mainlanders to take back what's theirs. Rapa Nui's proximity to a vast gyre of plastic trash in the ocean doesn't help Piru's cause.

Rapu's other key characters are musicians Mahani and Enrique, a pair of idealists who hope to change life on the island through music. They're using garbage as building materials for a new music school; but while Enrique's engineering background helps with construction, they may be on shakier ground when it comes to planning for the project's economic sustainability.

Ultimately, the doc doesn't offer a comprehensive look at the problems Rapa Nui faces today, and it certainly doesn't dig into the complaints Rapu has with some historians' account of how the island became a treeless plain. It instead contents itself with a genial but shallow celebration of a few natives trying to protect their culture. Rapu appears to have wrapped up production well before some developments that are clearly relevant to the story: Hasty-feeling titles acknowledge recent legislation meant to control the influx of Chilean mainlanders to the island.

Production company: Kartemquin Films
Distributor: Music Box Films (available now via​ ​Music Box StreamLocal)
Director: Sergio M. Rapu
Screenwriter: Elena Rapu
Producers: Elena Rapu, Sergio M. Rapu
Executive producers: Leanne Ferrer, Gordon Quinn, Betsy Steinberg
Director of photography: Jeff Saunder
Editor: Liz Kaar

In English, Spanish and Rapa Nui
76 minutes