Maldives documentary makes waves at Toronto and North American film festivals

The Island President, a Hollywood-style documentary film featuring President Mohamed Nasheed, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) today in Canada.

A grant-funded project, the film is one of the first to bring the Maldives’ fight against climate change to the international movie-going audiences. Starting with Nasheed’s initial vow to make the Maldives carbon-neutral, the film documents the president’s efforts to make climate change an important issue for politicians around the globe.

“The ability to sustain human life here is very fragile,” Nasheed says in the documentary. “The most important fight is the fight for our survival…. There is impending disaster.”

The film culminates in Copenhagen, where world leaders met in December 2009 for the United National Climate Change Conference. Although the summit was later reviewed as a failure, it did mark the first time that leading world powers agreed that the issue needed to be addressed.

Actual Films, an Oscar and Emmy-winning American documentary film company based in San Francisco, contacted the Maldivian government in early 2009 and asked for permission to film President Nasheed, members of the government and others as they prepared for the Copenhagen summit.

Director Jon Shenk, who directed the 2003 documentary “Lost Boys of Sudan”, followed Nasheed closely during his first year in office. Shenk told the Los Angeles Times that the documentary team hoped Nasheed would give a personal edge to a groundbreaking environmental and political topic.

“He was willing to be out there and say what a lot of politicians are afraid to say, which intrigued us,” said Shenk. “Climate change is so difficult to grasp and so difficult to generate world momentum around, but there are real people who are going to be affected really soon.”

The film looks inside previously unseen recordings of the Maldivian government’s preparations for the summit, and delivers behind-the-scenes footage from the event itself.

The filmmakers report having an unprecedented level of access to a head of state. Shenk said Nasheed’s candid behavior as a politician was a significant factor in the film’s success.

Nasheed said he was surprised at the film crew’s level of interest in his policies. “We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into at the start,” said Nasheed. “I thought they just wanted to do a longer interview than normal and would leave after a few days. I didn’t expect them to stay for a year!”

The Island President was screened at Colorado’s Telluride Film Festival (TFF) earlier this month, and made it’s debut in Canada yesterday at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).

Reviews about the film vary from enthusiastic to technically critical. David D’arcy’s review on calls the film “more entertaining and less didactic that An Inconvenient Truth,” and praises the filmmakers for making “visual richness” out of a contradictory story.

Reel Film Reviews criticises the movie’s length, but appreciates the content and leading man. “It’s ultimately Nasheed himself who compensates for the movie’s uneven atmosphere, as the remarkably even-tempered politician comes off as a tremendously likeable and engaging figure who seems universally beloved by his people (and with good reason).”

The review concludes that the film is “a stirring piece of work” that highlights an important issue.

President Nasheed delivered the keynote address on climate change yesterday at TIFF. Nasheed also attended a meeting on the possible Legal Form of New Climate Agreement yesterday, hosted by the Mary Robinson Foundation-Climate Justice (MRFCJ) at the Grantham Research Institute for Climate Change and Environment in London.

The Island President was produced by Richard Berge and Bonni Cohen. Actual Films have spent over two years and $1.5 million in grants making the film, which is due to be aired in the Maldives in early 2012. Reports state, however, that the film does not yet have a domestic distributor.


18 thoughts on “Maldives documentary makes waves at Toronto and North American film festivals”

  1. Mr. President it is good to talk of “environment” in international forums and making documentary films, you as the leading figure or the leading man. But the truth is that you are not an environmental friendly guy. If you are you would have stopped polluting the sea around Male’ and Thilafushi, the garbage Island.
    Male Water and Sewerage Company (MWSC) is pumping untreated sewer into the sea. Waters surrounding Male’ is polluted and Male’ municipality and the resorts are dumping garbage just everywhere as they please.
    Here in Male’ people are suffering due to lack housing, high rents and people are living hand to mouth since they are no jobs for the locals. I wonder what you are doing; the only thing that you are good at is to give us sweet and false talk and deceive us.

  2. Hassan, he has not been The President even for 5 years and yet you are blaming him for the ills of the past 30 or so years.
    He is not a magician to wave his wand and everything becomes hunky dory.
    With such imbeciles in The Majlis it is a miracle that we are in our current situation without it getting any worse.
    He may not be the best President but give I would prefer him over Gayoom and his dictatorship of 30 years of brutality.
    Now at least you can criticize him openly and freely but during Gayoom's time, you would be in prison and tortured if you even dream or think about criticizing him.
    A poor old man, Ahmed Shafeeg was brutally tortured for writing in his diaries his personal views and opinions on Gayoom.

  3. Every time someone talks of this film, the name of it reminds me of 'the village idiot.'

  4. "A Man for all Islands" ruled this country for 30 years. He was a despot. Now "The island President" is all set to rule the unfortunate people for another 30 years. He is a cult leader! 🙁

  5. Small man with a big drooling mouth is out on a foreign tour again, spending public money.

  6. I think President Nasheed is taking good step. Let there be PR campaigns, we shall give him a chance not to be a hypocrite.

  7. I for one can't wait to see this film. It seems a lot of 'Z' people are getting jealous that people like President Nasheed and not President Maumoon!

  8. The film is getting rave reviews and everyone is talking about how beautiful Maldives looks in it. I am with Ahmed on this, i can hardly wait to see the film.

  9. I think lots of ZDRP 'progressives' are very jealous that Hollywood wants to make a film about our President, rather than their failed dictator

  10. @hassan
    What is the President doing. If you kept ahead of the news you would know>
    1) Sewerage System in several islands
    2) Male' area waste management contract signed with due deligence of IFC but cannot go ahead cos ACC
    3) Housing being built under Veshi Fahi Male'
    4) Social Network for vulnerable groups.

    All this inspite of the huge budget problems.

  11. I give A+ to Nasheed for making our country a better place and letting us get out of fear of torture. The foundation for development completed and we will see the results soon with or without the support of opposition.

  12. Environment issues on sea level rise are another capitalist propaganda to make money by destroying the image of poor nations to sell their hodge-podge. This non sense is nothing but to frighten any potential foreign investment to the country. Rise in temperature, decrease in temperature is nothing unusual in the history of the earth. If any heat age to come, so called America or industrialists will not be spared. If the temperature rises to melt the ice in the poles, do they think the impact will affect only Maldives. We have seen how America is coping with hurricanes and how vulnerable Japan is for earth quake. I think they believe that they live in another planet on earth

  13. “If you thought defending Poland or defending Vietnam was important,” he pleads to his colleagues, “defending the Maldives is important.”

    Love him or hate him, that statement is just amazingly arrogant but sadly very representative of local opinion.

  14. President Nasheed is a very loyal and smart person.He wants to develop the country as singapore .There is a reason for him to play that '' the island president''
    that film the government gets money easily from the world bank or any other banks to develop the county and preventing carbon emissions projects.

  15. I believe a foundation in England provided the grant for the film. I would feel really bad if a country was destroyed because we didn't try hard enough to save the earth.
    All this lip service won't help anyone if we don't start shifting to solar energy and solar energy transportation.

  16. @decay-

    Ditto! Defence of Poland and Vietnam was not to protect the citizens either, it was to protect themselves and in order to prevent the spread of the socialist ideology. both countries would have been thrown under the bus had geo political realities been different.

    My only criticism is we are sprinting on the world stage, while at home we can barely walk. The awareness and attitudes of Maldivians to environmental issues is pathetic. When anti-Green conservatives begin to investigate, we are if for a lot of negative publicity, for the hypocrisy and insincerity.


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