The Island President Review (Kirk Haviland)

Photo Credit: Chiara Goia (

The Island President (2011)

Starring Mohamed Nasheed

Directed by Jon Shenk

The Island President is the story of the President of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, and his fight to save his island nation from a natural disaster brought on by global warming.  It follows his history from activist to president, but spends most of its time focused on the first year of his presidency and his influence on the Copenhagen Climate Summit held in 2009. The film has a strong environmental message behind it, but is the film as strong as its message?

The film opens with President Nasheed explaining the situation and dire circumstances of global warming on his island nation. We segue into a brief history lesson of the Maldives and its former dictatorship-like rule under the brutal hand of Maumoon Gayoom. Gayoom ruled for 30 years unopposed, he was compared to the likes of a Mafia Don more than a government official, with a reputation that included the torture and killing of others with opposing views and corrupt backroom dealings. After a political torture that resulted in death became public, with pictures of the beaten subject and all, the time for a change was ready in the Maldivian public eye. It was this atmosphere that allowed Nasheed, despite being imprisoned by Gayoom on at least 20 different occasions, to come to power. It was with this tenacity that Nasheed took to his newest and most deadly foe, climate change.

The film offers an unprecedented candid look at a world leader and the political barriers and red tape that must be addressed when trying to establish real change. Nasheed is an engaging character, one moment standing in front of a throng of reporters confidently delivering his message on climate change and regulation, the next fretting over the idea that he is the only leader in the room that still needs to duck out for a smoke. Nasheed can come across brash and aggressive when he needs to be and shows a brilliant intelligence for playing the political game. Unfortunately he has little clout in the game of world politics which is why he must strive and push and hard as he does.

Photo Credit: Lincoln Else (

Director Shenk’s access is impressive. The fact that he has managed so much behind the scenes chatter and planning is unprecedented and in some instances, like the Chinese Delegations waiting room, shines a light on the uphill battle that Nasheed really faces. It’s the tidbits like these that really shine out as the rest of the film seems content to simply follow around Nasheed as he fight’s the good fight. Outside of his little circle we do not hear from the Maldivian people as to how they feel about their new leader and the time spent dealing with Nasheed’s family is very limited.

Ultimately it’s the message behind the film and not so much the film itself that lives on after viewing, but that may have been the intent. Based on the amount of access to a world leader captured on screen I must give the film a recommend.

The Island President starts it run at the Hot Docs Bloor Cinema on Friday June 15th.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

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