Set in the gorgeous, turquoise Laccadive Sea, about 250 miles south-west of India, the Republic of Maldives is a country like no other, a chain of 26 atolls containing breathtakingly beautiful reefs and beaches, it’s the nearest thing to Shangri-la you’re likely to discover. But this amazing group of islands is in danger of disappearing – in 2004 a tsunami devastated what is officially the world’s lowest-lying country – unless that is Mohamed Nasheed can save it.
Jon Shenk’s documentary feature The Island President tells the story of a truly inspirational figure, Mohamed Nasheed, who made it his mission to fight corruption and to make the Maldives the first carbon neutral country. This is someone who led a 20-year pro-democracy movement against the regime of President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who was one of the founders of the Maldivian Democratic Party, and who survived more than 20 periods of imprisonment and torture to become president at the age of 41.
The film captures Nasheed’s first year of office and culminates in his trip to the Copenhagen Climate Summit in 2009, where the audience is given a fly on the wall view of the kind of political horse-trading that goes on at such places. Nasheed is unusually candid and you get first-hand access to him as he harnesses the power of media to overcoming his battles with other developing nations.
Despite the modest size of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed has become one of the leading international voices for urgent action on climate change. The soundtrack, culled from the Radiohead albums OK Computer, Kid A and Amnesiac, rides the waves of euphoria, anger, confusion and denial perfectly. It was a difficult presidency: he introduced unpopular taxes and was left with huge debts by the previous government although he was still able to introduce welfare benefits for those above 65 years of age, single parents and those with special needs. Even though he was ousted in a military coup in February 2012, by the time you get to the end you know that Mohamed Nasheed will continue his work no matter what obstacles are put in his way.
The Island President is out on DVD from 27 August 2012. www.dogwoof.com.