From March 28 – April 10 Film Forum will show director John Shenk’s compelling, frightening and beautifully shot new documentary “The Island President.” The subject is Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed.
The Maldives are a virtual paradise consisting of 1200 small islands strewn like jewels across the top of the Indian Ocean spanning 400 miles of open sea. Until Nasheed’s election the Maldives had been under the brutal dictatorial rule of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. Nasheed led a 20-year pro democracy movement against Gayoom which resulted in Nasheed being imprisoned for 18 months in a corrugated cell and tortured. He finally emerged as president at the age of 41.
Now having survived and defeated a brutal dictatorship and bringing democracy to his country, Nasheed faces off against another foe, global warming. The Maldives are considered to be the world’s lowest lying country. A sea level change of just three meters would render them uninhabitable. “It wont be any good to have a democracy if we don’t have a country,” Nasheed explains. He words could be a portent of things to come for other countries as Nasheed compares the Maldives relation to the sea to another island, Manhattan.
The story is an intimate as well as political portrait that follows Nasheed, during his first year in office, as he prepares for and then heads to the Copenhagen Climate Summit in 2009. Once there he will have to convince other countries to lower their carbon emissions from 387 parts per million to 350 parts per million. Nasheed knows he is facing a potentially hopeless situation. He also realizes that he has no other choice as he tries to save his country and its 3000 years of culture and civilization. Of his mission Nasheed, a charismatic leader, explains “It is living. It is exhausting, but we keep going on and on.” To illustrate his case Nasheed, at one point, even holds a cabinet meeting under water.
Filmmaker Jon Shank explained that in order to accomplish this portrait of a very unusual leader, “I felt that the only way to make people care would be to humanize the Maldives by portraying Nasheed as personally as possible. That could work only if the camera could go into places you normally can’t go with a political leader – their home, their private office, diplomatic meetings – to see how they act around their trusted colleagues, staff and other leaders.” Shenk and producer Richard Berg went to the Maldives to meet with the president to obtain permission for their film. Nasheed recalls, “I thought they just wanted to do a longer interview than normal and would leave after a few days. I didn’t expect them to stay for a year.”
Nasheed’s sysifian task takes on new meaning when one considers that since the film was made Nasheed’s presidency was toppled during a military coup d’etat. The coup was staged, by the military and forces loyal to the former dictator, on February 7, 2012.
Film Forum is located at 209 West Houston Street. For more information visit http://www.filmforum.com.
“The Island President,” director Jon Shenk, 2011,
Samuel Goldwyn Films, 101 minutes