“The Island President” to be shown in Maldives

Documentary film “The Island President” will make its debut in the Maldives during the week of November 21. Specifics have not yet been released.

“The Island President” was screened at the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in September, where it received the Cadillac People’s Choice Award for Best Documentary by audience vote. The film was one of 25 submissions in the documentary category.

The documentary was also screened at the exclusive Telluride Film Festival in Colorado earlier this month, where Hollywood Reporter named “The Island President” one of the festival’s “Top 12 films to know”.

The grant-funded film project began in 2009, when Oscar- and Emmy- winning American documentary company Actual Films contacted the Maldives’ newly-elected government. In an interview on Mavericks, Director Jon Shenk said the film was an evolutionary process. “It’s difficult to explain a film that involves a lot of  access and high ratio shooting,” he said, describing his initial proposal to the President. In other interviews, Shenk noted that Nasheed’s candid politics and acceptance of the cameras were key to the film’s success.

“The manner in which he’s done this is quite amazing,” Nasheed said in the same interview. “I myself am realising the things I have done and said, I hope it’s not going to get me in a bad boat! But I think it’s nicely done and I’m sure there’s nothing that anyone should get unnecessarily worked up about.”

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.

“The Island President” was co-produced by AfterImage Public Media and the Independent Television Service (ITVS), in association with Actual Films and Impact Partners, with major funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Ford Foundation, John D. and The Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, The Atlantic Philanthropies, and the Sundance Institute Documentary Fund.

The Maldives is the film’s fifth stop on an international tour that has included TIFF, Telluride, Doc NYC and IDFA Amsterdam film festivals. After the Maldives screening it will be shown at the International Film Festival of India in Goa.

State Minister for Tourism Mohamed Thoyyib previously told Minivan News that in spite of its title the documentary was not about President Mohamed Nasheed. Rather, it is about the issues facing the Maldivian people. The film raised awareness of global warming, portrayed and promoted “the unique ” Maldivian culture and language, and illustrated government transparency, he said.

“No scene was created or scripted, some reviewers even noted that the film’s most unique aspect was that it shot real events on a level that had never before been achieved in the Maldives, or within other governments,” Thoyyib said.

Thoyyib also noted that the Maldivian government had benefited a great deal from the film, but had not spent money on its production.

“There is a lot to be achieved directly and indirectly when something positive happens,” he said, adding that tourism revenue was likely to increase. “But this doesn’t solve the issue. The President will keep on raising his voice on global warming.”

President’s Office Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair today said he didn’t believe the government was officially involved in the upcoming screening, but was optimistic about the event.

“I believe it will be well-received in the Maldives,” he said. “The film delivers a serious but hopeful message, addressing both the issue of climate change while also showing democratic improvements in the government.”

Zuhair elaborated on the country’s progress by comparing use of foreign aid in previous administrations. He hoped the Maldives would be used as an example for other small countries.

“Any small or new country receiving aid from a foreign party should process it democratically. The money received after the tsunami was not disposed of well by the former government, whose methods are highlighted by the ongoing debate in our judicial system. Comparatively, the government procedures that the movie covers show what a young democracy can do to improve transparency. The Maldives now has different democratic assets, and can handle change.”

When asked if the screening bore relevance to the SAARC summit now taking place in Addu City, Zuhair said climate change would be a major talking point. He added that the summit is another indicator of the Maldives’ democratic growth. “SAARC shows our effort to be not just an active, but a proactive member of an international organisation,” he said.

Filmmakers Shenk and Richard Berg will accompany the film to Male’.