Director Jon Shenk (Lost Boys of Sudan) wastes no access to overthrown Maldives president Mohamed Nasheed. The result is The Island President, a gripping new documentary that's essential viewing for anybody who believes that the impact of global warming is tomorrow's problem. Unlike the typically preachy environmental doc, Shenk's effort is so seamless and involving that even skeptics may have a hard time resisting. Financial prospects are promising both in arthouse venues and on home-viewing platforms.
Constantly on the move, Mohammed Nasheed led a 20-year pro-democracy movement that eventually ousted the tyrannical regime of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in 2008. The charismatic Maldives native felt he'd finally won the right to govern paradise when a greater opponent emerged: global warming. The rising of the seas puts the island in grave danger, as 80% of Maldives land is less than 1 meter above sea level; this transformed Nasheed's anticipated duty of encouraging peace and employment into a rescue mission affecting not only his people but also the planet at large.
Shenk masterfully pieces together a portrait of a political figure at once intimate and epic. We see Nasheed in quiet moments, adjusting his tie or putting on a suit jacket, only to leave his hotel room into a throng of handlers and reporters. The image of this dedicated leader reveals that great ambition can be a curse—yet he somehow manages to maintain a wry sense of humor. It's exhilarating to watch though the toll is evident.
The Island President's pace owes a lot to Jonathan Demme's excellent Man From Plains, which followed Jimmy Carter around on a press tour for his highly-controversial book "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid." Like Carter, Nasheed is driven despite all the hostility that awaits him. People may end up doubting Nasheed's beliefs, but his determination leaves no room for debate. It's that determination that has the power to tear down political walls. Though Nasheed was forced to resign after threats of violence, he remains a vital force on the global scene.
One of the most emotional moments in The Island President comes from Laila Ali, Nasheed's wife. In a brief moment of vulnerability, Ali admits regret for bringing children into a world that seems doomed. It's a gut punch to every single person who has come to the wholly depressing conclusion that the world our grandparents enjoyed may not exist for our children.
Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn
Director: Jon Shenk
Producers: Richard Berge and Bonni Cohen
Rating: PG for thematic elements, some violent content and smoking.
Running time: 101 min.
Release date: March 28 NYC