Run do not walk to see a brilliant and important new documentary film about a political and ecological hero, Mohamed Nasheed, the recently ousted President of a chain of 1200 tiny islands in the Indian Ocean known as The Maldives, mostly famous for its idyllic, high-end beach resorts.
If there are still political heroes on this planet, Nasheed – for whom the words charming, brave and charismatic were invented –is surely one of them. As we learn through this beautifully photographed and incredibly candid film, Nasheed suffered through repeated imprisonment and torture, to finally become the first democratically elected President of his country, only to find himself ousted in a coup d’etat by the military and forces loyal to the former dictator a year later.
But this film is primarily focused on Oxford-educated Nasheed’s first year in office and his crusade to battle climate change, which is threatening to destroy his nation, which resides five feet above sea level. The Indian Ocean is already eroding The Maldives and if carbon emissions continue at their present levels, it will disappear along with its 3,000-year old history and culture.
Nasheed allowed filmmaker Joe Shenk incredible access into his personal life and political strategizing, as he fashioned a campaign to make his voice heard at the global 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change Conference. His efforts to woo the leaders of India and China, among others, to his crusade – and alert the world via such stunts as holding the first underwater press conference – are impressive and extremely moving.
Nasheed is funny, frank, honest, doesn’t pull punches and, at the last moment, quite pragmatic. Articulate, intelligent, energetic, he appears to be the personification of what we want and expect from democratically elected leaders and no longer find. Tragically, he is in exile from his own country, but perhaps through this film he will find a way to become a new international voice in the fight against global warming.
If you think global warming is a myth cooked up by scientists with an agenda, seeing The Island President will make it impossible not to take our ecological self-destruction seriously.
If you believe in global warming but found Al Gore’s film on the subject important but tedious and pedantic, you will find this film gripping, moving and heartbreaking.
You will also get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of how global deal-making works. It’s not a pretty picture but an astonishing education.
For The Maldives, there is no Plan B. But we are all threatened. Will it take the disappearance of The Maldives or ten Katrina’s to arouse us to the seriousness of this threat? Whatever it does take, The Island President is an important wake-up call.
The Island President
A Documentary Film about a Climate Change Crusader and Deposed Democratic Leader
Directed by Joe Shenk
In New York: Film Forum through April 10, 2012
In Washington, D.C.: Landmark’s E Street Cinema, April 20., 2012