Topical Doc ‘The Island President’ Opens at Film Forum on 28 March

[27 March 2012]

By Cynthia Fuchs

PopMatters Film and TV Editor

“The Maldives is just 1.5 meters above sea level. It’s not something in the future, it’s something we are facing right now.” As presented by Mohamed Nasheed, then the president of Maldives, that “it” would be the catastrophic effects of climate change. His island will soon be under water. Even beyond his tiny nation’s own fate, the former political prisoner sees this as a global issue, and has made it his mission to make it visible to the rest of the world. Jon Shenk’s The Island President is part of that effort.

Opening at Film Forum this week—with screenings followed by Q&As with Shenk on 3/28, 3/30, and 3/31—the film follows Nasheed’s travels to the UN and to the Copenhagen Climate Summit in 2009. In each appearance, he’s welcomed warmly or even cheered by eco activists, charismatic and convincing… at least until he meets representatives from India, who resent the wealthy West (the US and Europe) trying to curb their economic ascendance via carbon restrictions. “Many people in many governments just wouldn’t believe the science,” Nasheed tells a colleague, “India, China, and Brazil, they’re not believing it.” The science becomes one element in Nasheed’s performance, as he labors to persuade other nations that the Maldives are not alone. The film emphasizes not only Nasheed’s recent stardom on the world stage, but also his own history, which includes other struggles, like 20 years of fighting for democracy in the Maldives. Imprisoned by former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s regime, Nasheed spent 18 months in solitary confinement, inside a five-by-five corrugated metal cell.

The film is beautifully shot and tells a compelling story. It also provides an inspiring instruction as to Nasheed’s means and his end. After the film was completed, Nasheed was faced with still more problems in Maldives, and was forced to resign in February of this year.  “It was shocking,” Nasheed told the Deccan Herald, “to see how rapidly the Indian and the US government stepped in to recognise the new regime—the coup.”

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