The Island President producer rubbishes claims of state expenditure for film crew

San Francisco based Actual Films has rubbished suggestions that its travel and accommodation expenses were paid for by the President’s Office when filming ‘The Island President’ in 2009.

Producer Richard Berge said the claims were “completely and categorically untrue”, describing them as “a thinly-veiled attempt to discredit the Island President”.

“Actual Films demands that President Yameen’s office makes a full and public apology for misleading the Maldivian and wider public,” he continued, in press statement from the film company.

The award-winning film was based around Nasheed’s presidency and his efforts to garner diplomatic support to combat climate change during the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference at Copenhagen.

In an article titled ‘Excessive government spending on President Nasheed’s film and media crew!’ published on January 14, Haveeru said it had obtained documents showing that the President’s Office had borne some expenses of the Actual Film crew during filming.

The paper claimed that the crew was included in the presidential delegation for three of Nasheed’s trips: a UN meeting at New York in February 2009, a high level climate change conference at New Dehli in October 2009, and the Copenhagen conference itself in December 2009.

The paper noted that the documents obtained did not reveal the amount spent on the crew.

The claims, in numerous media outlets, emerged shortly after Nasheed had demanded details regarding the expenses of President Abdulla Yameen’s frequent visits to Singapore, stating that the details were a public right under the Information Act.

Speaking to Minivan News last week, President’s office spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz said that he would gladly comply with the spirit of the Information Act: “even if President Nasheed’s travel expenses and information on how many foreigners he employed, by the state, was requested.”

The President’s Office was not responding to calls at the time of publication.

Revealing details of the New York trip in February 2009, the company said that it had not entered into an understanding with Nasheed at the time of the New York trip in February 2009, and that the company did not meet Nasheed until late June that year.

Regarding the New Delhi trip in October 2009, Actual Films said that the plane was provided and paid for by the Indian Prime Minister’s Office, and that two Actual Film employees accompanied the delegation in seats that were otherwise empty, saying: “there was no cost to the Maldives government”.

Turning to the Copenhagen trip, the film company said its records showed it had paid approximately US$12,000 for all crew to travel to and from Copenhagen.

Furthermore, the film company said it had spent close to US$18,000 for hotel expenses during the trips. It also dismissed claims that Nasheed had travelled to the US on the Maldivian state’s budget to check and edit the documentary, adding that Nasheed first saw the film at its premiere during the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2011.

Haveeru also reported that Nasheed’s government had spent excessively on PR during his term, claiming the President’s Office had spent MVR2.86 million (US$185,000) on three British employees.

However, members of the team defended the expenses, saying that during Nasheed’s term the Maldives had enjoyed an enviable international reputation on democracy, human rights and the environment.

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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.


Behind-the-scenes at COP15: Oscar-winning film company to release documentary on Maldives’ efforts

An Oscar and Emmy-winning film production company based in San Franscisco, Actual Films, has produced a 90 minute documentary charting the Maldives’ efforts to raise awareness of climate change in the lead up to the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change Summit.

The Maldivian government was approached by Actual Films in early 2009 seeking behind-the-scenes access to President Mohamed Nasheed and cabinet ministers.

After two years, US$1.5 million, 140 hours of footage and a soundtrack by Radiohead, the company has produced a 90 minute documentary ‘The Island President’, to be released in cinemas later this year.

The film was entirely funded by the US Ford Foundation, American Corporation for Public Broadcasting, MacArthur Foundation, Atlantic Foundation and the Sundance Institute.

The Maldivian government insists it had no editorial input into the film, which was left completely to Actual Films and Emmy-winning Director Jon Shenk.

“It felt a bit weird for the first two hours but after that the ministers seemed to forget the cameras were there,” said a senior government source.

“It is unprecedented for a documentary maker to be given round-the-clock access to a head of state, probably for very good reason.”

The source, who was shown a pre-release version of the film, described it as “somewhat like a real-life episode of the West Wing”; giving a unique perspective on the high-level machinations of world powers that would make it of interest to politics buffs as well as environmental activists, “and it will probably do wonders for tourism.”

“Everyone who’s seen it so far says it’s made them proud to be Maldivian,” the source said, adding that it was the first time a film about the Maldives was to be shown at international film festivals.

The film will be released in US cinemas later this year and aired in the Maldives in early 2012.

A trailer for the film can be seem at