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Review: The Island President

A president who singlehandedly tries to save his nation, it sounds like a bad Hollywood film but nothing is further from the truth. Jon Shenk’s The Island President tells the story of former President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives, a man confronting a problem greater than any other world leader has ever faced—the literal survival of his country and everyone in it.

There is no place in the world that comes closer to paradise than the Maldives. The golden beaches, the clear blue sea and the green palm trees make the Maldives pure heaven on earth. But now that dreamland is under attack. If the sea rises a mere three more meters paradise will be gone – forever. In The Island President filmmaker Jon Shenk follows the nation’s leader in his quest to save his beloved country.

To use the term ‘engaged’ would be an understatement if talking about the President Nasheed. Having fought hard for the freedom of his country, reporting on a desired chance to become a democratic nation, Nasheed takes his job very serious. But before he even can take stock of his new office when he is elected the first president of a free democratic country it becomes apparent to him that it might all be futile if he can not secure a future for the Maldives at all.

It is a fact that the Maldives are slowly disappearing into the ocean, centimetre by centimetre is being swallowed up, the rising sea taking with it trees, houses and whatever else it finds in its path. A worldwide consensus on climate change is needed in order to bring about change in the rising sea levels but it is a huge task for one of the world’s smallest island groups to convince the titans that climate change is no longer something that ‘might’ affect us in the future.

Nasheed’s efforts are also limited by a deadline; a gathering of the world leaders who can make a difference is imminent in the form of the Copenhagen Climate Summit in 2009.  Friend and foe will attend, trying to negotiate their position in the supposed joint effort to save the planet, but how much they are really willing to change the world becomes questionable throughout the film.  As Nasheed himself says: “Some people still think climate change does not exists, just like some people do not believe the world is round.”

Beautifully shot and edited, combining historical footage with future prospects, the film draws the audience in bit by bit. As we get to know the president on a more personal level (Shenk had complete unlimted access to the president for over a year) we see a friendly caring and hardworking man with an incredible sense of humour, who sometimes pleasantly surprises the audience by coming out with comments and behaviour we somehow do not expect to see from a president – no matter how big or small his nation.

The Island President will be screening in the UK from 29 March 2012. To find a screening near you click here.


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Alexandra Zeevalkink is a Dutch-born journalist living in London who founded DocGeeks in August 2011 in order to have a legitimate excuse to watch every documentary under the sun. She freelances for various publications and writes mainly about documentaries and the film production industry. When she is not blogging or watching films, she enjoys theater, photography and reading loads of books. She is always on the look out for potential partnerships with other creative minds.

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