×

The Island President

This inspiring big-issue docu virtually ensures "Remember the Maldives!" will become a rallying cry in the fight against global warming.

With:
With: Mohamed Nasheed, Laila Ali, Aminath Shauna, Mohamed Aslam, Mark Lynas, Ahmed Naseem, Paul Roberts, Ahmed Shaheed, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Gary Streeter, Tillman Thomas, Shyam Saran. (Dhivehi, English dialogue)

In the face of rising sea levels, the Maldive Islands are the Alamo, and environmental crusader Mohamed Nasheed is their Davy Crockett. Boasting astonishing access, director Jon Shenk’s “The Island President” documents a brave battle against overwhelming odds. If the endangered archipelago can just keep its head above water long enough to be heard, the charismatic leader hopes to save the lowest country on earth. Should he fail, this inspiring big-issue docu virtually ensures “Remember the Maldives!” will become a rallying cry in the fight against global warming. Pic demands a distrib that views its rewards in more than financial terms.

“Lost Boys of Sudan” director Shenk has little patience for naysayers who claim that global warming is a hoax. Tell that to the residents of the Maldives — a “cross between paradise and paradise” consisting of nearly 2,000 tiny islands in the Indian Ocean, none more than eight feet above sea level. According to scientific estimates, if carbon emissions continue at the levels they are today, the Maldives will disappear within a decade. But those levels aren’t steady; they’re climbing, thanks to industrial nations like India and China that rely heavily on coal.

But “The Island President” is hardly a PowerPoint presentation on the subject of environmental responsibility. That’s already been done well enough. Instead, Shenk’s doc tackles the message from a compelling human-interest angle — by focusing on the messenger.

In 2008, at the very moment such campaign buzz words as “hope,” “change” and “progress” were stirring voters in the U.S., Nasheed won the Maldives’ first truly democratic election by embodying those same ideals. Before that, as a brief history lesson helpfully explains, corrupt leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom had run things his way for three decades, during which Nasheed was arrested 12 times and tortured twice for speaking out against the administration and attempting to form his own political party.

The 2004 tsunami changed all that, sweeping Nasheed into office. Once there, the infectiously optimistic, fiercely independent little man immediately realized that nearly all the nation’s most pressing issues traced back to climate change. The country’s beaches were literally being washed away, and expensive projects such as dikes and sea walls offered only temporary relief.

Shortly after the election, Shenk reached out to Nasheed about recording the against-all-odds crusade. What he got was nearly carte blanche to eavesdrop on everything from high-level strategy sessions to family dinners. Not since Barbet Schroeder’s “General Idi Amin Dada” has a film crew been allowed such candid access to a head of state, only here, Shenk was not required to submit the footage to his subject for approval — not that Nasheed had any reason to worry. Apart from several scenes of self-doubt (and the occasional shot of him chain-smoking), the doc presents a mostly heroic portrait of the underdog leader.

Though the central problem is far too daunting to be resolved in the span of such a film, Shenk finds a manageable arc in Nasheed’s preparations for his biggest international showdown, at 2009’s Copenhagen Climate Summit. His primary goal is to set a tough global emissions cap, at 350 parts per million. By way of example, he vows to make the Maldives carbon neutral within the decade, but what he really needs is for carbon hogs India, China, Brazil and the U.S. to change their ways.

Shenk accompanies Nasheed from one global pulpit to the next, recording impassioned testimony in front of the United Nations, U.K. Parliament and any press who will listen. From its privileged behind-the-scenes vantage, the doc demonstrates what a savvy PR artist Nasheed can be, pulling camera-ready stunts (like holding an underwater cabinet meeting) and recognizing when to go off-script (as when he compares the issue to Vietnam or Nazi Germany). The man knows how to grab headlines, and “President” does its part to serve up his most chilling sound bites — e.g. “It won’t be any good to have a democracy if we don’t have a country.”

Acting as his own cameraman, Shenk balances run-and-gun insider footage with stunning shots of a beautiful tourist retreat whose residents could soon become environmental refugees. Superb ambient-to-anthemic music from Radiohead and Stars of the Lid lends added resonance to the subject.

The Island President

Docu

Production: An AfterImage Public Media presentation of an Actual Films, AfterImage Public Media, Independent Television Service (ITVS) production in association with Ford Foundation and Impact Films with funding provided by the Corp. for Public Broadcasting. (International sales: Menemsha Films, Venice, Calif.) Produced by Bonni Cohen, Richard Berge. Executive producer, Jon Else. Co-producer, Spencer Adler. Co-executive producer, Dan Cogan. Directed by Jon Shenk.

Crew: Camera (color, HD), Shenk; editor, Pedro Kos; music, Marco d'Ambrosio; music supervisor, Doug Bernheim; sound, Lincoln Else; associate producers, Shazra Aishath, Craig Hickerson. Reviewed at Telluride Film Festival, Sept. 5, 2011. (Also in Toronto Film Festival -- Mavericks.) Running time: 101 MIN.

Cast: With: Mohamed Nasheed, Laila Ali, Aminath Shauna, Mohamed Aslam, Mark Lynas, Ahmed Naseem, Paul Roberts, Ahmed Shaheed, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Gary Streeter, Tillman Thomas, Shyam Saran. (Dhivehi, English dialogue)

More Scene

  • Marianne Rendon, Matt Smith, Ondi Timoner

    Robert Mapplethorpe Biopic Team Talks 'Fast and Furious' Filming

    Thursday night’s New York premiere of the Matt Smith-led biopic “Mapplethorpe” took place at Cinépolis Chelsea, just steps from the Chelsea Hotel where the late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe once lived — but director Ondi Timoner had no sense of that legacy when she first encountered him in a very different context. “When I was ten [...]

  • Producer Mel Jones poses at the

    'Dear White People' Producer Talks Hollywood's 'Black Tax'

    “Dear White People” and “Leimert Park” executive producer Mel Jones is extremely familiar with growing up and watching “white men in all types of roles and never [seeing] ourselves as a part of those narratives.” Now, there may be some more opportunities for writers of color to tell their own stories, but, she notes, there [...]

  • Rebel Wilson Isn't It Romantic

    Rebel Wilson on Twitter Gaffe: 'It Was Purely to Lift My Fellow Plus-Size Women Up'

    “I obviously misspoke in that situation,” Rebel Wilson told Variety at the premiere of her latest film “Isn’t It Romantic” Monday, acknowledging the gaffe in which she claimed to be the first-ever plus-sized woman to star in a romantic comedy during an October appearance on “Ellen.” Following the comment, Wilson was met with criticism from Twitter [...]

  • NORTH HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 11:

    How Lena Waithe Convinced Halle Berry to Team Up for 'Boomerang' TV Series

    Halle Berry wasn’t immediately sold on the idea of a “Boomerang” reboot. The 1992 romantic comedy, which starred Berry, Eddie Murphy, and Robin Givens, told the tale of cocky ad executive and insatiable ladies’ man Marcus (Murphy) who meets his match in his new boss Jacqueline (Givens) — an exec who treats him the same [...]

  • Rebel Wilson and Miley Cyrus'Isn't it

    Why Liam Hemsworth Wasn't at His 'Isn't It Romantic' Premiere, but Wife Miley Cyrus Was

    Liam Hemsworth had every intention of bringing his wife, Miley Cyrus, to Monday’s premiere of his new romantic comedy “Isn’t It Romantic.” However, the Aussie actor was forced to skip the evening because of some “health things.” That didn’t stop Cyrus from attended the red carpet shindig at the Theater at the Ace Hotel in downtown [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content