THE ISLAND PRESIDENT - Demand It!August 24, 2012


Samuel Goldwyn

On Demand Weekly provides new movie reviews of hot movies on demand from the POV of watching from the comfort of your home. Today’s review: THE ISLAND PRESIDENT (Samuel Goldwyn Films).


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The case of damn-good documentary filmmaking… and being in the right place at the right time…
By Cynthia Kane


I must disclose right away: this is not a review. I was not involved in this project, but because I also work for ITVS (Independent Television Service), who is one of the funders of THE ISLAND PRESIDENT, to write a review would seem biased and a conflict of interest. But I can share why I think one might want to see this film and some interesting anecdotes around it.

Director Jon Shenk (LOST BOYS OF SUDAN) and producer Bonni Cohen (THE RAPE OF EUROPA, WONDERS ARE MANY) are young, not-so-emerging, and I consider them their generation’s Steve James, Barbara Kopple, Errol Morris among others, meaning they’re two of the finest 30/40-something documentarians in the U.S. The Bay Area couple are both grads of Stanford University’s documentary program and now make films through their company Actual Films and as well as teach at UC Berkeley’s J-School. Jon is also one of the most sought-after cinematographers in the documentary world.

In short, the fact they made THE ISLAND PRESIDENT is one of the big reasons you should see this.These two have talent, lots of it.


But that’s not all. THE ISLAND PRESIDENT gives us extraordinary access to a man, Mohamed Nasheed who first fought to bring democracy to his country, the Republic of Maldives, then once that battle is seemingly won, finds he has an even bigger conflict on hand. Climatologists predict the Maldives will be underwater by end of this century, thus will no longer exist. It’s is an island nation made up of about 1200 atolls with a population of around 350,000 people, the smallest country in Asia as well as the lowest lying country on Earth, with an average ground level of about 4 feet above sea level.

The Maldives won their independence from the UK in 1965, but political infighting caused much unrest and the country found themselves under the dictatorship of Mautoom Abdul Gayoom for 30 years before our story begins. Our protagonist, Nasheed, affectionately known by his countrymen as Anni, was educated in Britain but returned to the Maldives to become a dissenter and journalist. An article in the opposition newspaper, Sangu, resulted in his arrest and detention leading to his being held in solitary confinement for 18 months. Over the next years he was arrested and detained again, tortured and finally exiled all for his criticism of the dictatorship. He formed the Maldivian Democratic Party and vigorously campaigned for change. Nasheed finally managed to topple Gayoom from his 30-year rule, he found the need to turn to the urgent environmental issues that threaten his homeland.


Mohamed Nasheed / THE ISLAND PRESIDENT (Samuel Goldwyn Films)

Shenk follows the newly elected Nasheed, a slight yet energetically articulate man, from the UN Climate Change Conference held in Copenhagen in December 2009 to detail his subject's election and brief reign prior to the summit. He quickly found that the country that he now governed was threatened by much than Gayoom's administration; rising temperatures and an increase in erratic weather mean that the Maldives are being swallowed by the ocean that surrounds them.

From the moment he was elected, Nasheed dedicated himself to raising awareness of this and to trying to force some sort of forward movement in the battle against global warming at the Copenhagen summit. There are intimate inclusions of both joy and despair, along with hushed conversations between high-ranking officials from various countries as President Nasheed desperately attempts to motivate change with the facts proving the very serious and real danger facing his country. 


"We continue to shout", he says whilst addressing an uninterested Security Council meeting, "even though we know that you're not really listening." For Nasheed, combating climate change is just another fight for the basic human rights for his people. It’s all too real if they do not stop the rising sea level then his country will cease to exist.

Nasheed is a likable showman, outspoken and yet an astute and nimble diplomat. In short, he’s a dynamic protagonist in this vivid and astonishingly shot and dynamic story. The pristine and sumptuous beauty of the Maldives only strikes harder knowing their impending doom if something doesn’t change quickly. This is a David vs Goliath story like no other, Goliath being the Earth and the climate catastrophe for which we ourselves are mostly to blame.

There’s another element that I very much appreciate here: this is a story about a Muslim nation, and we, the audience are not hit over the head with this fact. It’s a natural backdrop to the story. And Nasheed, a Muslim, is a good, educated and decent man. For those who care deeply about the planet, a hero. Refreshing for us tired of stereotypical views of Muslims in the media.


Production values are top notch. The film is timely enough with the environmental fight it encompasses, notwithstanding the fact that just before it premiered late last winter in cinemas within the U.S., Nasheed was forced to resign from office after a sudden military coup. Evidently the fast change toward a democratic form of government plus all the many problems inherited from the former dictatorship and the economic disaster that spun out of the 2004 tsunami were just too much and the people of the Maldives, and they couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel as could their once ambitious leader Nasheed.


demand it

- Cynthia Kane

Cynthia Kane reviews documentaries for On Demand Weekly. She is a writer and Sr Programming Manager for [ ITVS], overseeing the International Initiative for funding in their SF office. Prior she’s had many incarnations from actor to writer to producer. She co-created DOCday on Sundance Channel.


THE ISLAND PRESIDENT (Samuel Goldwyn Films) can be found under your cable system's On Demand section.


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