Documentary Edge Festival’s opening night film The Island President follows the struggles of the Maldives’ President Mohamed Nasheed, an eternally optimistic and energetic leader who strives to save his newly-democratic nation of low-lying islands from the imminent threat of rising sea levels caused by global warming. Directed by Jon Shenk (Lost Boys of Sudan), the film starts off with the obligatory history of the Maldives, detailing the previous 30 years of tyrannical rule and Nasheed’s political imprisonment and torture, and while it’s undoubtedly insightful and necessary the first third rather drags with all the talking heads. Things pick up once we get to Nasheed gaining the Presidency in 2008, with Shenk and his crew given rare access to cabinet meetings, and the film builds towards his trip to the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Summit. Nasheed describes the Maldives as “paradise, crossed with paradise”, and indeed we are treated to beautiful images of the sun-drenched islands and atolls, showing us all that will be lost if nothing is done soon. The foreboding mood is aided by a soundtrack of Radiohead songs, which works well in many places but can be distracting in others (especially for fans of the group). As we watch the charismatic Nasheed rally other island nations together in support of the climate change bill at Copenhagen, it’s impossible not to get swept up in his hopeful mission, and the impassioned speech he delivers to the indifferent powerful nations is awe-inspiring. Which makes it all the more upsetting when the inevitable stonewalling and compromises diminish any hopes of real change. Climate change is often politicised and either argued in a completely abstract manner or with dry scientific facts, but The Island President wisely puts a human face to the urgent issue with the unflappable Nasheed.
The Island President is currently screening at the Documentary Edge Festival. For more information visit their website, and see the trailer below.