Documentary explores the environmental work of ousted Maldivian president

  • <B>Mohamed Nasheed, former president of the Maldives.</B>

    Mohamed Nasheed, former president of the Maldives.

On February 7, 2012, Mohamed Nasheed resigned the presidency of the Maldives, an island group situated in the Indian Ocean, under threat of violence in a coup d’etat perpetrated by security forces loyal to the country’s former dictator.

A former political prisoner, while in power Nasheed became one of the world’s most powerful voices, raising the alarm about global warming, by declaring that the low-lying Maldives will be underwater if a solution isn’t found soon.

His story is told in the powerful call-to-action documentary, The Island President, winner of the People’s Choice Award at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival and a Sustainability Award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. The film screens at the Bermuda Documentary Film Festival on Saturday, April 21.

The Green Pages spoke to the film’s director, Jon Shenk, and its producer, Richard Berge.

Former President Nasheed once donned SCUBA gear, and held a Cabinet meeting underwater to dramatise the threat that climate change poses to the Maldives, the world’s lowest-lying country.

The archipelago of some 1,200 coral islands has an average elevation of 1.5 metres above sea level. The country’s highest point is 2.5 metres above sea level, and 80 percent of the land is less than one metre above sea level. Some scientists fear that the entire country will be underwater by 2050.

Elected President in 2008, ending 30 years of despotic rule, Nasheed pledged to make the Maldives the first country to go carbon neutral within a decade by moving towards renewable energy resources.

“I thought ‘this guy sounds incredible’,” Shenk says. “He’s not afraid to make dramatic, honest pronouncements to call the world’s attention to his country’s problem.”

Shenk and his filmmaking partners approached the Maldivian government with the idea of making a film, but were told they had to make their pitch face-to-face with the president. They were soon on a 16-hour flight to Dubai, followed by a five-hour flight to the archipelago, located some 210 miles southwest of India and stretching some 450 miles south of the Equator.

Five minutes into their pitch, Nasheed agreed to co-operate and hours later, Shenk and his colleagues began filming. Over the coming year, they would shoot for 78 days on five continents, following Nasheed as he held cabinet meetings, attended bilateral meetings with leaders of other countries and, ultimately, attended the Copenhagen Climate Summit to fight for his country’s survival.

“Fortunately for us, Nasheed does not play by the diplomatic protocols,” says Berge. “As soon as he shakes hands with somebody, he gets right down to business. The diplomats and other leaders wouldn’t be ready for that. Even in the cases where we were eventually asked to leave, we were still able to get candid discussions on tape.”

“At the time,” adds Shenk, “we felt frustrated that we had to leave some meetings, but when we got to the edit room we realised that we had captured a trove of scenes unprecedented from a sitting head of state.”

His trust won, Nasheed credentialed the filmmaking team as members of the Maldivian delegation, rather than as journalists, in Copenhagen.

“That gave us access to the President’s interactions with the leaders of other countries,” Shenk says.

The Island President provides a rare glimpse of the political horse-trading that goes on at such a high-level global assembly, and the charismatic Nasheed is front and centre as he makes a last-ditch effort to craft an agreement, and save his country.

His political future may be uncertain, but former President Nasheed given the Champions of the Earth Award, the United Nations’ most prestigious environmental prize, in 2010 has already made his mark on both the Maldives, and the world stage.


The Island President will screen on Saturday April 21 at 2 pm in the Tradewinds Auditorium of the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute. It will screen with the short film, Haiti Village Health, Bermudian filmmaker Robert Zuill’s film about the opening of a medical clinic in impoverished Haiti by Bermuda-based Dr Tiffany Keenan. Tickets go on sale Wednesday April 11 at, at All Wrapped Up (Washington Mall), at Fabulous Fashions (Heron Bay Plaza) or by calling 232-2255. See more information at

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Published Apr 5, 2012 at 9:16 am (Updated Apr 5, 2012 at 9:16 am)

Documentary explores the environmental work of ousted Maldivian president

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