Pragmatist’s Predicament: Putting Cap on Carbon No Easy Feat for Nasheed
After 30 years of unjust rule by President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, in 2008, the citizens of Maldives elected Mohamed Nasheed as their young new president. Following the young president’s every move, director Jon Shenk has documented Nasheed’s rise to power and the impossible struggle he faces against global warming. As the planet continually rises in temperature along with the escalation of carbon levels within our atmosphere, the rising sea threatens to submerge the paradisaical country. The chaos of climate change, the lavish vacation resorts, and the gorgeous tropical locale hide ongoing political unrest in Maldives within The Island President (especially now that Nasheed has been ousted in a coup last month), but Nasheed’s continued push for international carbon restrictions could have significant, life changing impact for not just his home country, but the world.
After years of political journalism, and the witnessing of unjust imprisonment and torture, Nasheed and his cohorts formed the Maldivian Democratic Party after fleeing the country, fearing for their lives. When public outcry demanded political reform, he saw an in, returned to Maldives, and managed to become the first new president of Maldives in three decades. Unfortunately, the deck was stacked against him. The industrialized world has been pumping our atmosphere with planet heating carbon, and very few of these countries seem to care about the urgency of the situation for the island country that could be completely submerged within our lifetime if immediate action is not taken. Nasheed was chosen to speak at the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference with hopes of reaching an international agreement regarding carbon emissions that could potentially save Maldives, but he was up against China, who was completely in opposition. Though his political turmoil back home was almost constantly extant, he kept his battle with climate change his number one priority, for better or worse.
In Shenk’s film, Nasheed is made out to be a hero, a champion for global climate stability, he certainly was during his time in office. He spoke boldly, and challenged the nations of the world to be more responsible with their production of pollution. One of his lofty goals was to make Maldives the first carbon neutral country in the world within 10 years. To highlight the present dangers of climate change, he held an underwater cabinet meeting in full scuba gear. But this struggle was not Nasheed’s only problem, and Shenk strangely omits this information from the film entirely. He instead follows the president on his many public appearances, PR campaigns, and private meetings with scientists and political staff members as he discusses his environmental missions. Never is it mentioned that there were protests going on outside of his offices, or that political corruption was a major problem throughout his term.
Though it’s a one sided story, Shenk has put together a nice looking doc that rides on political drama, and a charismatic young leader with big dreams. The narrative rotates with ease between fly on the wall documentation to talking head interviews with Nasheed, his wife and a few fellow co-workers. Shenk’s experience of working on the PBS Nova documentary series comes through here with beautiful shots of the tropical landscape, and an understanding of how to portray the environment as a character within the overall story. Pairing these striking visuals with a fitting soundtrack that boasts the names Radiohead and Stars of the Lid, The Island President makes for a polished piece of documentary work that paints its subject as a stifled martyr, but what lies beneath the surface of his environmentally sound visage is no where to be seen here.