Blessed – or maybe cursed – with fortuitous timing, Jon Shenk’s lionising documentary of Mohamed Nasheed, the first democratically elected leader of the Republic of Maldives, closely follows the charming president from 2008 to 2009, his first year in office, writes Melissa Anderson, in a review for The Village Voice.
The film, a hopeful portrait of a crusader that premiered at Telluride last September, is now inadvertently a record of a bygone era: Nasheed was forced to leave office February 7, the result of a coup by loyalists to his predecessor, the dictator Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
Although obviously unable to include the tumultuous events of the past seven weeks beyond a closing intertitle, The Island President briskly presents the broader history of this country of 400,000. As in his previous doc, Lost Boys of Sudan (2003), Shenk forgoes voiceover, the salient facts of this country, best-known as a luxury-resort destination, relayed via the sit-downs with Nasheed and members of his team that dominate the first third of the film.
As Nasheed wryly points out, the beaches where celebrities and aristos have romped were also—quite literally—the same spots where the torture sanctioned by Gayoom, who ruled from 1978 to 2008, occurred.
The thoughts Nasheed shared with Shenk post-Copenhagen now ring as foreboding: “Coming back to Maldives, you realize how impossible the whole situation is.” After the chaos that erupted in this island paradise two months ago, Nasheed’s vice president, Mohamed Waheed Hassan – a seemingly benign talking head seen briefly in the doc – is now the country’s leader.