The Island President tries to give a human face to climate change, following Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed. The movie opens with a quick history of the man, who was educated in England before returning to The Maldives and working for years to bring democracy to the autocratic islands that had been ruled by the same man since 1978. He was arrested and tortured numerous times, had to go into exile before going back and managing to help force change and become President in 2008.
Rather than just resting on his laurels, Mohamed quickly realised that the biggest issue facing The Maldives is climate change and that if it isn’t stopped, the islands may literally sink under the waves in the next 50 years. The film follows his attempts to raise the profile of the issue and affect change ahead of the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit in December of 2009. Nasheed certainly has a flair for publicity, doing things you wouldn’t ordinarily expect a Head of State to do, such as holding an underwater cabinet meeting that caught the attention of the world’s press. However he’s not just about eye-catching PR stunts, as he also has a talent for politics and uses his passion to give himself far more international clout than would normally be given to the leader of a nation of less than 400,000 people (for comparison, the population of The Maldives is roughly the same as that of Leicester).
It makes for an entertaining film that manages to inspire and give a sense of hope, even though the backdrop of climate change is rather bleak, with Mohamed going up against the titans of the world who seem pretty intransigent and have various reasons not to compromise. Nasheed does a great job of making The Maldives the poster-country for the problem, as the fact it lies less than 1.5 metres above sea level and is already losing land is a great way to show this is a problem that’s real and has massive real-world effects.
The documentary is well worth a look, focussing on a truly fascinating and passionate figure who really seems to want to do good. The sad coda is that while he was doing a great job doing good on the international stage, back in The Maldives the transition to democracy wasn’t as smooth as it first appeared. In March this year, Nasheed stepped down as President in what he has described as a coup by military figures loyal to the previous regime. At the moment his grand plans to make The Maldives carbon neutral and his sterling work putting the country’s massive climate change problems on the world stage is on hold. He’s still working to ensure there is true democracy in his nation, but things have undoubtedly become far more difficult for him since this film was shot. Even so, it’s a well-made documentary about an inspiring man.
There are a couple of decent special features, including a 25 minute Q&A with the film’s director, Jon Shenk, who talks about how the film was made as well as what happened to Nasheed after filming concluded.
It’s also an interesting irony that the movie was partly funded by the Ford Foundation, which although it no longer has any ties to the Ford Motor Company, was founded by Edsel and Henry Ford. They set up to foundation using money from their car making empire, so it’s kind of nice that with the automotive industry such major source of greenhouse gas emission, Ford has ended up helping this documentary get made, even if it was inadvertent.
Overall Verdict: Although climate change often seems a relentlessly grim subject where it tough to find a solution, The Island President manages to make it interesting and entertaining and show one man’s way forward.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac