Mohamed Nasheen shines in The Island President. *Photo supplied
Mohamed Nasheen shines in The Island President. *Photo supplied


The Island President *****

Saturday, April 21 at 2pm
Director: John Shenk

This outstanding documentary follows President of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed’s startling crusade to try to save the sinking islands of his home country.

The fact that Nasheed, the island’s first democratically-elected president, has since been pushed out of office by loyalists of long-running dictator Maumoon Abdul Gayoon, gives this documentary even more urgency.

Director Jon Shenk decided to go ahead with the release of the film, only updating the text at the end to state that Nasheed is now working to rally international pressure on the country to hold new elections.

The film takes us back to Nasheed’s jubilant election in 2008 following Gayood’s 30-year reign that saw prisoners tortured and killed amongst other human rights abuses.

Nasheed himself was tortured twice, arrested countless times and held in solitary confinement for 18 months following his opposition to the regime. It’s not quite the paradise we are used to hearing about in the Western world.

In a memorable shot, the camera sets on a better than life view of the sand and turquoise sea then pans out through the razor edges of a barbed fence and pauses, allowing you to take in the contrast.

The film takes an unexpected turn as Nasheed is elected, as the main agenda for his party turns from re-establishing an economy plagued by corruption and an over-reliance on tourism, to saving the 2,000 low lying islands that are literally being washed away by rising sea levels.

We follow Nasheed and his troupe of ministers and consultants as he prepares to take on the world at the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Summit. He aims to establish international restrictions on greenhouse emissions and is willing to lead by example by pledging to make the Maldives the first carbon neutral country in the world.

He remains courageous and charismatic in the face of the opposition including China which percieves the agreement as a threat to its soverignty.

Nasheed is a determined, eloquent and feisty young president who finds a place in your heart from the outset. At one point a supporter holds up a banner saying “You are our global president” and you feel that this small-statured young president from a small chain of islands could actually have the clout to change the world.

We do see glimpses of weakness in him — “What’s the point of fighting a battle when we are all going to die?” he confesses he often asks himself.

An Island President combines a perfect balance of archival footage, narrative and fly on the wall documentary footage following Nasheed’s meteoric rise in people’s hearts and minds.

There is nothing the film cares to hide from the viewer — Nasheed is portrayed as a very human President. The opening scene shows him straightening his tie in a hotel room with his unmade bed behind him. He smokes under stress and his words are uncensored. We literally follow him everywhere, with the cameraman often struggling to keep up as he marches headstrong from one appointment to another.

Nasheed is innovative in his media tricks orchestrating a photoshoot of him dressed in a suit knee deep in water or holding the first underwater cabinet meeting. The film does leave you wondering whether this is a single-agenda party or whether climate change is the sole focus for the film.

There is some beautiful cinematography, especially of the island scenes, but the shots are clever — you think you are looking at a paradise idyll, then you notice a crane in the background.

Nasheed described his beloved islands as “a cross between paradise and paradise.”

If climate change claims his country and Nasheed with it, we can be fairly sure that, if it exists, this Island President will be heading to another paradise up in the sky.

Bermuda Docs film festival runs from Friday, April 20 to Sunday, April 22 at the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute. Tickets are available from or by calling 232-2255.