The Island President


Directed by Jon Shenk Club, Light House, Dublin, 101 min

YOU’RE BOUND to think differently about global warming if you live on the Maldives. The most persuasive sections of this well-meaning – if somewhat underpowered – documentary comprise aerial shots of those beautiful islands.

The low-lying landmasses seem like mild blisters swelling apologetically on the Indian Ocean’s azure flesh. The slightest rise in sea levels is sure to bring catastrophe.

In 2008, the island nation, emerging from years of totalitarian rule, elected Mohamed Nasheed as its president. Articulate, charming, firm without being strident, the English-educated politician looked to be the right man at the right time.

Whereas the world’s larger nations could (for now) pretend that global warming was something that happened to other planets, President Nasheed immediately realised that, before too long, climate change would be the only issue that mattered to his compatriots. The film follows our hero as he prepares for the Copenhagen Climate Summit in 2009.

The Island President has interesting things to say about the politics of contemporary ecology. Nasheed’s advisors resist the demonisation of the US (more accommodating than we’ve been led to believe, apparently), but express increasing dismay at the intransigence of the Chinese. Vital conversations happen during furtive breaks for cigarettes.

Right-thinking people will applaud the sentiments behind the documentary. But The Island President does make all its points in the first 60 minutes and – though perhaps justified in this case – hagiography numbers among the least entertaining of cinematic genres. Moreover, somebody should have explained that (I’m taking an educated guess here), even if a caring Radiohead grant free access to their entire back catalogue, you are not compelled to play the band’s music beneath every second scene.

Those whinges noted, The Island President should be commended for offering a stark reminder that, while the world’s great nations turned their attentions to economics, the waters continued to rise.

Sadly, Nasheed is currently no longer in a position to man the dykes. A grim end-title reveals that he was forced from office while the film was in post-production.