By Don Simpson | March 27, 2012
Director: Jon Shenk
The story of Mohamed Nasheed’s surprising ascent to becoming president of the Maldives, Jon Shenk’s The Island President is a modern day retelling of the classic tale of David against Goliath. Not only did Nasheed’s underdog run for presidency endanger his (and his family’s) well-being, but by winning the election he delivered a democratic governing structure to the Maldives after thirty long years of despotic rule. Then, upon being sworn in as president, Nasheed took on an environmental ticking time bomb of catastrophic proportions.
With an average ground level of five feet above sea level, Maldives is the planet’s lowest lying country. So a rise of just a few feet in sea level would submerge a majority of the 1,200 islands of the Maldives, thus rendering the entire nation inhabitable and bringing about the extinction of an entire culture. (How many other world leaders have ever had to face the literal destruction of the patch of earth that they preside over?) With the Maldives’ impending annihilation rapidly approaching, Nasheed must force himself to be heard at the forefront of the world’s stage where he must confront the Goliath’s of the carbon-emitting world and beg and plead for them to change their environmentally disastrous ways.
The Island President focuses on Nasheed’s first year in office, concluding with his desperate trip to the Copenhagen Climate Summit in 2009. Shenk is given what appears to be an all-access pass, allowing us to witness Nasheed and his cabinet’s approach to this life or death situation. Nasheed utilizes his underdog status to harness the global influence of the media; he also rallies other developing nations to take a stand with him. Nasheed’s immensely powerful speech at the Climate Summit is reason enough to watch The Island President. Those few minutes catapult Nasheed to become one of the leading international voices for urgent action on climate change; and throughout The Island President we also witness Nasheed’s unwavering commitment to transparent governance, multi-party democracy, and the struggle for human rights.
The real kicker is the recent (post-The Island President) news that Nasheed was forced to resign (presumably at gunpoint) by police and army officers on February 7, 2012. Nasheed stated that protesters had joined with “powerful networks of regime loyalists” (namely the former administration of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom) to force his resignation in a coup d’etat. As we learn from Shenk’s film, this is not the first time that Nasheed has suffered a political setback in his fight for justice in the Maldives. It will be interesting to see how this scenario plays out and whether this coup d’etat turns out to be the death knell for the Maldives.