The Island President film resonates all the more deeply following last month’s coup in the Maldives, writes Eban Goodstein for Grist magazine.
The story’s ending — perhaps tragic, perhaps a powerful continuation — is today unfolding in real time. The Maldives is a string of 2,000 islands off the coast of India, home to about 300,000 people. The highest point in the country is only a few feet above sea level. Until 2008, the islands had been under dictatorial rule for decades.
This is the best film dealing with global warming in years. It is a story of classical proportion: of true heroism, courage and nobility, of eloquent soliloquy, of intimate moments, and of political intrigue, compromise, and betrayal.
The film is also visually stunning. The vast blue ocean is both a serene paradise, and a powerful, threatening force, driving Nasheed’s political urgency. The Maldives capital, Malé, looks like an oasis of buildings rising out of the ocean. When asked by a reporter what was his plan B, should there be no action to slow global warming, Nasheed responds, “We will die.”
Shenk follows Nasheed in strategy sessions with his cabinet as the team seeks to leverage their moral argument as the first victims of climate change, canaries in the coal mine. Nasheed gives speeches, and makes his case with heads of states and ministers at the U.K. Parliament, at the U.N. General Assembly, in India, and finally — during the dark, crushing days of Copenhagen.
Last month, just after I screened the movie, President Nasheed was forced at gunpoint to resign from his office. Political opponents seized on the economic crisis and fundamentalists objections to Nasheed’s modernising Islam. At clear and ongoing risk to his life, Nasheed decided to remain in the country, writing, speaking, leading marches, and fighting for democracy.
And this is the enduring lesson from the movie. President Nasheed and thousands of others in the Maldives understand that their land and lives are threatened both by the rising seas, and by the corrupt politics of business as usual. They continue to fight for both democracy and climate justice, in the face of imprisonment, beating, torture, and murder.