Review: Eating Up Easter

If your knowledge of Easter Island is limited to its imposing Moai statues—the centuries-old stone figures that draw thousands of tourists to the small island in the Pacific Ocean every year—a film like Eating Up Easter will prove to be an interesting (and clearly quite personal) exploration of the Chilean territory’s culture, people and prospects for the future.

Filmmaker Sergio Mata’u Rapu, who hails from the island known locally as Rapa Nui, structures the brief documentary (it runs just 70 minutes) around the birth of his first child, narrating the proceedings as if writing a letter his son will one day grow up to read (or watch, as it were), learning about his own heritage in the process. Rapu introduces a series of locals, each doing their best to strike a balance between preserving their Rapanui culture and embracing the inevitable change that comes with the passage of time. Mama Piru is a weathered, no-nonsense ecologist who works in the island’s recycling center, overwhelmed by the volume of single-use plastic tourists leave behind and doing everything she can to combat it. Mahani and Enrique are musicians and environmentalists with a goal to combine their two callings by opening a sustainable, non-profit music school for the island’s youth. And Rapu’s own father, Sergio (the island’s first native Governor), is an entrepreneur at heart who’s overseeing the construction of the island’s first shopping mall (that will include the first elevator, too).

All this, plus incorporating all the political and historical context necessary to understand what drives these players, is a lot for any film to navigate with a sense of cohesion. Eating up Easter mostly succeeds; it’s clear there is no shortage of important stories for Rapu to tell, and his worst offense may be trying to tell them all in a single film. Each of his subjects could be the central figure in a documentary of their own, from Mama Piru’s life as an activist in Europe and her role on the island’s tribal council to Mahani’s years traveling the world as a concert pianist and the bumpy road to making the music school a reality. Instead, we only get glimpses of each of these narratives (and others besides), compelling in their own right but without the chance to really invest in any of them.

With so much to share about an island at a crossroads, the likes of tourism, capitalism, colonialism, pick-your-ism barreling towards a collision of ideologies and priorities, Eating Up Easter certainly serves as a massive, blinking “proceed with caution” sign. Just the act of documenting these stories, of capturing everything from Rapanui traditions like weddings and festivals to protests, civic activism and city council meetings, means that the next generation will have a mile-marker for their progress in the coming years. Should they choose to take up the battles and causes important to those who’ve come before them, the groundwork is there for them to build upon.

And Rapu’s central theme certainly isn’t lost among his various, sometimes cumbersome narratives: that we are all in this together. The Rapanui people share a deep, undeniable connection in culture, history and family ties, and Eating Up Easter introduces us to all of it (well beyond those famous Maoi statues). But more than that, the film reminds us that none of us live, thrive or suffer in a vacuum. The work of Mama Piru, Mahani, Enrique, Sergio and everyone we meet on the island is important because it both immediately impacts their day-to-day lives and that of their neighbors and serves as an example of the effort to preserve, sustain and thoughtfully evolve any community in the context of the world around it.

Eating Up Easter is now available to stream via Music Box Films’ virtual platform StreamLocal; a portion of your rental goes to support the local cinema of your choice.