The Island President glimpses at the realities of climate change


A documentary by Jon Shenk. Rated G. Opens Friday, September 7, at the Vancity Theatre

A model politician is given an exemplary documentary in The Island President, which gives tantalizing glimpses of what leadership would resemble if money and power weren’t stacked against us—and against the planet’s survival.

At the time of filming by director Jon Shenk, who previously made the excellent Lost Boys of Sudan, Mohamed Nasheed had only recently become president of the Maldives, an archipelago of 1,200 or so tiny islands and atolls in the Indian Ocean. Most of this so-called landmass climbs only about four feet above sea level, so global climate change and rising tides are more than academic notions to Maldivians.

Nasheed had a rough ride even getting to the place where he could worry about this guaranteed future disaster. A victim of imprisonment and torture at the hands of his predecessor, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who ruthlessly owned the Maldives for the previous 30 years, the handsome, U.K.–educated Nasheed and his democratic movement managed to shame Gayoom out of office in 2008.

The beautifully designed and shot film (Radiohead provided most of the music) centres on the newly elected president’s visit to the Copenhagen Climate Summit the next year and his attempts to make his benighted nation a truly green entity, with solar and wind power outstripping industrial pollution. He’s not presented as a saint. It’s not clear if Nasheed sees the irony of attempting to be a carbon-neutral leader while sneaking cigarette breaks at a conference on global warming.

This quixotic venture is made more poignant with the knowledge, not imparted here, that Nasheed was removed from power earlier this year by Gayoom’s goons, who are certain to steal whatever wealth they can wring out of the Maldives before they fade into memory like Atlantis, and democracy.

Watch the trailer for The Island President.

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