The Island President - Cinema Review

'the half which deals with climate change is the most successful by far, Nasheed providing a real life example, where films like An Inconvenient Truth could only talk theory'

Prior to seeing The Island President, the only thing I could tell you about its subject, Mohamed Nasheed, President of The Maldives, is that he was the guy who held a cabinet meeting underwater in order to bring publicity to the threat of global warming and in particular the threat it brings to people who want to live on his nation's islands. The very fact that this is my only knowledge of him is enough to support some of Nasheed's arguments.

Throughout the film The President harangues other politicians and his own cabinet to make bold statements about global warming. Upon spotting a newspaper headline quoting him as saying 'Global Warming, 'Like Nazi Invasion'', his reaction is merely 'that's good, I like that'. Nasheed is an interesting documentary subject because of actions like this and the underwater cabinet meeting. He seems to be a president who recognises meaningless bureaucracy and tries to cut through it. 'What is the point of having conflict?', he asks when questioned about trouble in the middle east, 'we're all going to die anyway'.

On a subject level then, director Jon Shenk has picked a good horse to back but structurally his film is lacking. Split into two halves, the first deals with democracy in The Maldives, whilst the seconds deals with the attempts to sign a worldwide agreement on global warming in Copenhagen at the end of 2009. There are problems with both of these distinct areas. In the first place, Shenk presents democracy as having very much arrived and being here to stay when clearly that does not seem to be the case, taking into account the recent ousting of Nasheed as president amidst accusations he was carrying on some of the distinctly suspect practices of the previous government. Secondly, Shenk finds himself backed into a corner on Copenhagen. The director clearly saw it as the revelatory moment for his subject, the moment Nasheed could say he'd won. The reality, with most people claiming Copenhagen as a failure, was very different and the disclaimer which starts 'although Copenhagen was presented as a failure...' at the end of film feels empty and manipulative.

The impression The Island President leaves is of a documentary with some excellent points, that had the bad fortune to weave them together during a time when its story wasn't quite finished. The half which deals with climate change is the most successful by far, Nasheed providing a real life example, where films like An Inconvenient Truth could only talk theory. Shenk too recognises that The Maldives is facing the real possibility of being a sacrificial lamb. As Nasheed recognises, the world needs grand gestures and dramatic examples to force action. It is sad to think that one of those very actions may ultimately end up being the destruction of his homeland.




The Island President is in select UK cinemas from Friday 30th March 2012.

Look further...

'a stirring piece of work that effectively throws the spotlight on an important issue' - Reel Film, 2.5/4

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