The Maldives, 2000 islands and 3000 years of human history, are being swallowed by the sea. The language-defyingly beautiful archipeligo is the resort of the elite among the haves, the holiday destination of the .01 %, the choice vacation for the drivers of the forces that push the ocean levels up in the court of King Caractacus and the Islands, like the tourists, are just passing by.
From thirty years of political stability (ie repressive dictatorship) came the bloodless coup of Mohamed Nasheed who reversed the oppression (that victimised him among many others) and began a campaign of climate change awareness, calling for political unity in a land which wasn't going to be a land much longer if political disunity was allowed to run wild. It's not just that the Maldives are more easily seen as the victims of climate change because they are islands, it's that, as low set islands, they are potentially the first country in the world to drown en masse. The Maldives sport the world's lowest highest point at 2.4 metres. You could cartwheel over that. Quite literally, it's sink or swim time. Well, there is another way...
Nasheed has been campaigning for reductions in carbon emissions since before his presidency. The Island President is his story but it is also the story of his drive to Copenhagen 2009 to gatecrash the big backslap with a personal plea to the devastators, or a well aimed ging stone in the eye of Goliath. If he can't get a commitment for the big emitters to calm it down to 350 ppm (parts per million) there might be no reversal of the damage possible (even if there isn't a stabilisation from compliance). In other words, first we take the Maldives and then Manhattan (where a lot of its tourists come from, island to island).
This film that makes a plea for unity is itself made from it; Nasheed's struggle is indistinguishable from The Maldives' and by extension the world's. If the spectrum of what a documentary can be goes from plain reportage to propaganda, it must be said that The Island President is firmly in the latter half. But this, too, presents a document, an argument for itself. As such it becomes something closer to primary historical source where a more even handed approach would weaken the signal. It's only dangerous if you expect your culture to do your thinking for you. If you apply the critical filter to this that you must to your own life events then you should find it invigorating.
Invigorating it is because Nasheed himself compels attention. He's a gift to a documentarian: good looking, driven, unignorably intelligent with an understated cheeky archness to his humour that somehow continually surprises. We have no trouble at all travelling with him from his repression as a political prisoner to tireless underdog to president to the humbler of giants because he gives us so much centre screen. Even his fellow players come in like injections of nutritious information on Nasheed's life and career, political history and climate science. And then there are the Maldives themselves. Phew!
Phew! Aerial shots of these islands set in the stippled jade sea move at a glacial pace but never seem long enough. Closer shots of that gem coloured water slinking up along the porches and roads like the most beautiful seamonster on earth and the great white explosions of the tide against rocks only just behind kids playing cricket bring this home ... home. In the first of his many funny assertions, Nasheed describes the Maldives as a cross between paradise and paradise. That's what's at stake. This beauty that almost makes you feel like a voyeur to gaze at is about to vanish forever. The ache of this, the sheer bloody ache of it is what makes this resolutely old fashioned documentary so strong. When you start to enjoy the manipulation you are experiencing, at least until it's over, you are in the presence of cinema. No, CINEMA.
If you see this film, don't forget your critical faculties (I don't mean the sad bullshit of climate skepticism, I mean the criticism that adds perspective). If you do, you'll be googling and wiki-ing until you know more. Documentary mission accomplished.