A Presidential Fight against Global Warming

“The Island President” captures Maldives former president, Mohamed Nasheed’s quest to prevent rising ocean levels from literally deluging his low-lying archipelago nation right off the map.

The frustrations of a man whose long-sought goal remains out of reach are vividly on display in “The Island President,” a new documentary about a former President’s quest to spur action against global warming.

After bringing democracy to the Maldives after thirty years of despotic rule, Mohamed Nasheed is faced with an even greater challenge. A rise of three feet in sea level threatens to submerge the 1200 islands of the Maldives, enough to make them uninhabitable.

This documentary directed by Jon Shenk (“Lost Boys of Sudan”) captures Nasheed’s first year of office after he was elected President in 2008 and follows his quest to prevent rising ocean levels from literally deluging his low-lying archipelago nation right off the map.

It’s a stirring story of a man confronting a problem greater than any other world leader has ever faced—the literal survival of his country and everyone in it. As the documentary starts, Nasheed is preparing for a trip to the Copenhagen Climate Summit in 2009. Cool and pragmatic, his mere lament is simply being unable, so far, to awaken the public on the issue of carbon emissions. He wants to make the Maldives the first country to go carbon neutral within a decade by moving towards renewable energy sources. When all hope fades for any kind of written accord to be signed, he makes a stirring speech which salvages an agreement. While Copenhagen is judged by many as a failure, it marked the first time in history that China, India, and the United States agreed to reduce carbon emissions.

“I felt that the way to make people care would be to humanize the Maldives by portraying Nasheed as personally as possible. That could only work 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,”’ says director Shenk, who along with his film-making partners, Richard Berge and Bonni Cohen profiles the popular and charismatic leader in all facets of his struggle. “He’s not afraid to make dramatic, honest pronouncements to call the world’s attention to his country’s problem.”

Filmed in 78 days in five continents, the film reveals Nasheed’s battle with the climate change that threatens to destroy his nation, with stunning transparency and intimacy.

“We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into at the start,” says Nasheed. “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!”

His candid, intelligent, often humorous speeches make for a totally refreshing experience in political activism as he builds a democracy that replaces decades of oppression and corruption that prevailed before his election. But as he pointedly notes: “It won’t be any good to have a democracy if we don’t have a country. The Indian Ocean is rising, and if carbon emissions continue at their present levels or if they climb, the Maldives will definitely disappear.”

Hailed as a visionary by Time and Newsweek Magazines, Mohamed Nasheed has become one of the leading international voices for urgent action on climate change and this moving and gripping documentary gives an honest, no-holds-barred portrait of a man leading the charge to save his 3000-year-old nation.

“The Island President” releases in theaters March 28th.

Photo: Pres. Mohamed Nasheed Photo Credit: Chiara Goia / Samuel Goldwyn Film

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