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 Screendaily.com 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.