The pre-release premiere of the Island President opened last night in Dharubaarge to packed audiences.
Tickets that had originally been sold for Rf 80 (US$5) were selling for Rf 150 (US$10) on the black market yesterday afternoon. Such was the demand that organisers squeezed an extra 50 chairs into the auditorium at the last minute for on-the-door sales.
The film details the lead up to President Mohamed Nasheed’s election and the introduction of multi-party democracy. This is by no means an objective film: former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom is treated harshly by the filmmakers and portrayed as thoroughly creepy, as in one scene where he stares unblinking at the camera while soldiers goose step past and a tinny patriotic song plays in the background.
Neither is it propaganda – rare archival footage of brutal military crackdowns and photos of the battered body of Evan Naseem lead up to one of the film’s strongest moments: time-lapse footage of the tin shed in which Nasheed was incarcerated in solitary confinement for 18 months.
“You walk in your mind,” he explains. “Even if you can only take 4-5 steps, you walk it over and over again.”
Nasheed’s seriousness on the subjects of democracy and climate change is given contrast as the filmmakers home in on endearing personal touches – the President’s assistant struggling to do up his tie, Nasheed’s request that the Muleaage staff fetch his mother’s spicy fish recipe, his bitter asides expressing frustration with diplomatic bureaucracy, his phone call home to tell his mother he had secured a deal in Copenhagen, and photos from the days he sported an afro.
The film portrays him as a very human and accessible leader, qualities which are sure to make the film a success among the liberal university student demographic when it is released to cinemas in the US in February.
Foreign audiences with more interest in global climate politics than in the Maldives will find much to take from the film. Nasheed serves as a fascinating behind-the-scenes ticket to the Copenhagen Summit and the diplomatic wrangling of 192 world leaders. In one scene he bullies the President of Grenada into rewriting a document on the climate change ambitions of small island states, in another he disappears behind a palm tree to speak to the Australian Prime Minister over the phone – the filmmakers follow.
Descriptions of The Island President as ‘the West Wing of climate change’ are apt – in one scene, a Chinese diplomat is filmed asking a protocol officer to identify the Maldivian President. “Your government should know this,” she snaps.
The impact of the film locally will be hard to predict. Whatever the politics of the viewer, there is a great deal for Maldivians to be proud about in The Island President. In one scene, Nasheed and Environment Minister Mohamed Aslam argue bitterly about whether to compromise on 1.5 degrees in order to at least secure an adaptation deal.
“People listen to you. We don’t want to look like we’ve been bought,” Aslam insists. Nasheed’s explosive reaction quickly dispels any doubt that his is a calculated attempt to milk foreign aid – he is clearly convinced the threat is existential, but is forced to come to terms with compromising his global ambitions for the sake of his country.
The first screening last night was predictably brimming with Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) supporters, but the second session was a mixed – and younger – crowd. With 40 percent of the population aged between 15-24 and many disenfranchised by the ‘he said, she said’ nature of Maldivian politics, the film could well have political ramifications in 2013 if it proves popular with this set.
“The Island President” sets a mood of gravity and hope. Using footage and interviews original and historic, television broadcasts, and moments intimate as well as highly public, the film offers a cinematic collage of President Nasheed’s pursuit of democracy and in putting, and keeping, the Maldives on the map.
A combined sense of crisis and action dominates the film, particularly on the environmental issue. But threads of hope are strung throughout, most notably in the Maldivian government’s negotiating style. Regularly confronted with the baby-step methods of many foreign powers, Nasheed’s strident style may unnerve his own delegation but it presents him as a man of action, keen to keep his word.
Everyone knows someone who disdains politics as a sport of chatter and show. Nasheed is one of them. At Copenhagen he regularly vents of the slow-moving discussions and hesitant delegations to his own group of ministers. The Island President might leave Maldivians in fear for their homeland. But with a leader who speaks his mind without reservation, the country has more than many world powers can boast.
Extra showings of The Island President will be held at Athena Cinema on Friday
and Saturday, following unprecedented demand.
Friday 25 November at Athena Cinema: 14:30; 17:30; 20:30; 23:30.
Saturday 26 November at Athena Cinema: 17:30; 20:00.
Tickets can be bought from Athena Cinema between 16:30 – 23:00. Planned screenings for Dharubaarge on Thursday will be moved to Athena Cinema to meet demand. Ticket hotline: 9797356.