The Island President
The Island President follows the globe-trotting journey of President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives,after bringing democracy to his country, takes up the fight to keep it from disappearing under the sea. The story of a man confronting a problem greater than any other world leader has ever faced,the literal survival of his country and everyone in it. As the lowest lying country in the world, if the sea level rises a few feet, the picturesque islands of the Maldives will be submerged and uninhabitable, like a modern-day Atlantis. It could happen as soon as 2050.
The documentary by Jon Shenk (2003’s The Lost Boys of Sudan) begins with the radiant beauty of the Indian Ocean, and the allure of a land of blissful serenity. Prying into that myth, the film traces the trajectory of Nasheed’s career in a tourist Mecca where locals were ruled by a brutal dictator. A dissident, Nasheed survived prison (where friends died) and joined a movement that prefigured the more recent Arab Spring. Archival footage documents torture and worse. As president, he inherited a newly freed democracy and the risk of losing it all to climate change.
The Island President makes visual richness out of its story’s contradictions. The azure sea that draws sun-seekers from Europe also surrounds horrific island prisons from which escape was impossible. Opponents of the regime that operated with impunity until 2008 were arrested and isolated. Many were driven abroad.
Between meditations on the islands, the camera races through the recent history of the Maldives, as Nasheed, charged with terrorism and a range of other crimes, eventually wins election as president in 2008, but not before the government declares war on its opponents. Had the tsunami of 2004 not destroyed much of the Maldives and ravaged its economy (weakening the authoritarian regime), his message of reform would have been far less urgent.
Nasheed is a prodigious and witty orator (in contrast to the wooden Al Gore) with a modern activist’s instincts for the camera. Once president, in his campaign to make the Maldives carbon-neutral, he organized a now-legendary cabinet meeting underwater in 2009. Praise came from around the world for the brave new leader of the tiny threatened country.
The circumstances that the Maldives face internationally ensure that The Island President is neither an infomercial nor a hagiographic campaign doc. As the waters rise, Nasheed and his delegation appeal for their nation’s survival to the world community in international meetings that couldn’t be less cinematic. Shenk follows Nasheed through a faceless labyrinth of hotels and conference halls – a vivid metaphor for the frustrations of a tiny country confronting major powers.
What makes the The Island President unique is the extreme freedom President Nasheed gave director Jon Shenk (Lost Boys of Sudan) and his crew, getting them access to cabinet meetings, to his home, and even to meetings with the leaders of other countries. Throughout, Nasheed speaks his mind with a directness that is almost unheard of for a contemporary politician. Shrewd, pragmatic, with a knack for creating publicity events to capture the world’s attention–he had his cabinet ministers learn scuba so they could have an “underwater cabinet meeting”–it’s not hard to see why this dynamic young leader from a tiny country is increasingly becoming known as one of the world’s most persuasive voices for action on climate change.
The Island President combines stunning cinematography with the haunting music of Radiohead for an unforgettable journey. In most of the world, Nasheed still remains unknown. But this film promises to play a role in changing that as more people are exposed to his charm and eloquence.
Audiences at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival elected The Island President, as the Best Documentary of the festival! The film was awarded the Cadillac People’s Choice Documentary Award, the most notable prize for a documentary at the festival.Telluride Film Festival have also selected the stunning documentary The Island President.
Director: Jon Shenk
Cast: President Mohammad Nasheed,Aminath Shauna.Mohammad Aslam,,Mark Lynas,Ahmed Naseem,Paul Roberts,Ahmed Shaheed
Theatrical Release Date: March 28, 2012
Produced by:Richard Berge,Bonni Cohen