Sergio Rapu & Elena Rapu / Eating Up Easter
We interviewed filmmaking duo, Sergio and Elena Rapu of Eating Up Easter, to learn more about their filmmaking process and why they are so passionate about plastic pollution. Plastic Oceans is a partner of this film, and we met up with them in October 2019, at the ImagineNATIVE Film Festival in Toronto. We were excited to explore their motivation for the film and gain more insight into the issues illuminated in the film.
Making the Film
Elena Rapu was working in tourism in Rapa Nui when she noticed the tourists visiting the island were not aware how they were impacting the island, it’s infrastructure, environment and culture. Importing more food came with more trash, more income led to purchasing more things which also contributed to trash.
“We realized there were so many false ideas and a general lack of information about the current state of the island and we wanted to change that,” Elena said. “We wanted to create a film that would give the modern-day Rapa Nui a voice on the world stage; where they could not only correct misconceptions but say, hey, we have ideas to contribute to what we are all facing. We want to be part of the solution.”
Making Cuts to the Story
When the film aims to give voice to Rapa Nui, it can be challenging to decide what gets included and what must be cut. Elena originally followed a number of other people – a farmer from Chile, a restaurant owner using sustainable practices, a tour guide — who all brought more complexity to the story, but in the end it was just too much to cover.
“I wish we could have included more of the variety of stories on the island, as well as the perspective of a Rapa Nui person who has not lived abroad, although this is increasingly hard to find these days.”
Plastic Pollution as a Central Theme
While they chose which stories were most relevant for the film, the documentary’s plot developed overtime. Plastic pollution became a central theme in the film, though it was not initially their focus. Sergio explained, “as we developed the story, we saw that plastic was not only everywhere on the island but also an image that could be relatable to other communities outside of the island. In many ways, the pile up of plastic waste on Rapa Nui was symbolic of the shift in our economic structure.”
In many ways, plastic pollution is symbolic of globalization and consumer culture. Its impacts are vast and complex, dramatically changing even the remotest of communities.
Gradual Change in Island Culture
Some of the people featured in the movie pointed to the Kevin Coster film as the cause of dramatic change to the island. However, Elena thought the movie only hastened the inevitable change that was coming with a general increase in tourism worldwide.
“The development we are seeing today would have happened over the last 20 years no matter what, with improved air travel access and fairly affordable ticket costs to Chile and Rapa Nui,” Elena said. “The [Costner] movie is easy to point to as the cause of consumerism and cultural change, as it brought in the first real influx of income to the population. But the island has always been famous for its statues.”
In their opinion, the island had always attracted attention; if the film hadn’t happened, globalization likely would have had the same impact.
Effects of Globalization
Change is inevitable, and often not clearly definable as good or bad. Sergio, who grew up on Rapa Nui, said that seeing the changes taking place on Rapa Nui always conjures up mixed feelings.
“I am happy that my community has more access to conveniences from the rest of the world, though they also come at a cost,” Sergio said. “For example, on the island, everyone has a cellphone these days and are fairly active on social media – which serves as an effective tool in communicating with others and sharing information with the outside – nevertheless just like in other places it is reducing the amount of face-to-face contact that we used to have with each other.”
Many outside Rapa Nui can relate to this dynamic shift in culture, as technology has both created barriers and pathways for communication. In this way, globalization was a boom of accessibility, connecting the world, but also challenging traditions. These changes distance us from a nostalgic past, in which things can never be as they once were. Yet globalization brings us closer to technological advancements and solutions.
As Sergio sees it, “the perfect balance is when the added tools from the outside can help support and advance our cultural values of respect for our elders, dependence on community and living in balance with our environment.”
Living in the USA
Sergio was brought to the US as a child. His American mother and Rapanui father knew the importance of a strong education, and at the time a Western education was considered the best. Sergio lives in the US, where he has been able to hone his craft as a storyteller by working and learning along some of the best in the industry.
“The difficulty, of course, is finding a way of using the tools and resources I’m tapping into in the West in order to serve my community in the Pacific,” Sergio explained.
“Through the success of Eating Up Easter, we have proven that stories of the Pacific, in fact, native stories in general, hugely resonate with a Western audience and in that way promote compassion and understanding between a diverse range of cultures. So by living abroad, Elena and I have come to see ourselves as bridges between native cultures and the West.”
By not living on Rapa Nui, his family is still able to provide to that community without incurring their own environmental impact on the island. “Though it is painful to not live where your heart lies, we have come to accept all these things as being more important.”
Honouring the Community Abroad
Though they live in the US, Sergio & Elena pay homage to the community. Sergio feels an obligation to honour his ancestors through filmmaking.
“My culture is one based on honouring our ancestors, after all that was the purpose of making the moai, so my work today is no different. Eating Up Easter was our way of building statues of remembrance for all those who appeared in the film. It’s not only a way of sharing our culture’s experience but also remembering those people who have passed and what they did in our community. We focus on stories about people first for this same reason,” he explained.
“If there is one thing that unites all Rapanui”, said Sergio, “it is our strength in adapting to changes. This has been apparent in witnessing his father’s generation go from being young people living on an isolated island to elders in a booming economy with at least 15 fights landing each week. Archaeology illustrates that his ancestors adapted to a changing landscape too, often creating tools from planting techniques to socio-cultural processes in order to adapt to changes in the environment and population.”
“In many ways,” he said, “I feel secure that it is because of this trait we as Rapanui will overcome the issues currently plaguing us and continue to survive and prosper.”
After the Film
We spoke with Sergio & Elena about how plastic waste in Rapa Nui has changed since making the film. If anyone understands the burden of plastic pollution, it is the people of Rapa Nui. When one of the remotest islands in the world is weighed down by plastic pollution, it cannot go ignored. Sergio explained that Mama Piru had a big impact on the community; “after the passing of Mama Piru, more people have become aware of the issues around microplastics in our oceans and her actions.”
“The legacy she has left for us to take over inspires more people to come out on to the cleanups than ever before.”
Reducing Tourist Waste
Since filming, there have been multiple private enterprises that have started taking on different aspects of the tourist waste issue. There are at least two local companies that have started providing filtered water in reusable gallon jugs for home and business use to eliminate the need for bottled water.
There is also a furniture manufacturer that is using not only recycled wood but also repurposing glass waste into their products. Recently, an organization made up of tour operators, hotels, and other businesses has been created to focus on community education and activities around environmental issues.
Sergio reflected, “as always, the Toki Music School remains a shining example of how a community can use this process of building as a way of reusing waste material. Finally, close partnerships with organizations like Plastic Oceans International provides our community with global resources and information for our community leaders to take action on a local level.”
How Sergio & Elena Reduce Plastic & Waste
During filming, Sergio and Elena were inspired to discover the status of recycling in Minnesota where they live. “That was one of the first moments where I realized that the film was much bigger than just the island and we could use it to have conversations about where trash comes from and where it goes in any place the film screened, not just on islands,” Sergio explained. “From then on we started to be aware of all the trash we were generating in our home, when we traveled, on the film set, everywhere.”
He realized how much more they could be doing to cut back on plastic. “Now we bring out reusable bags, straws, and silverware everywhere. We bring glass jars to the bulk sections of the grocery stores and use cloth produce bags. We’ve found as we start to reduce our use of plastic, we notice other aspects of our lives where we still use it, and slowly we are trying to shift each of these areas to more sustainable choices (shampoo, cleaning supplies, etc. etc.).”
“We are by no means perfect with this, it’s a huge responsibility for the consumer to carry alone and is often impossible, especially with kids. But we are chipping away the best we can and also making sure to vote, not just with our dollars, but for leaders who will help support these changes from the top down as well.”
Going plastic-free is a big challenge. We appreciate those that recognize the need to change their habits, no matter how big or small.
While Rapa Nui may be a world away, there are still lessons that can be learned, and inspiration that can be taken from this film. When you consider the remoteness of Easter Island, the impact of plastic pollution and globalization is difficult to deny. These issues are pervasive around the globe.
Through this film, Sergio and Elena showed us the importance of getting involved in local efforts. Everyone makes a difference.
If you’re interested in seeing Eating Up Easter, contact us and request a screening!