Jon Shenk on location with President Mohamed Nasheed – Photo by Lincoln Else

Observational documentary filmmaking is kind of like hunting when you’re really hungry. You’re never satisfied.
– Documentarian Jon Shenk

It won’t be any good to have a democracy if we don’t have a country.
– Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed

The Island President which opened last weekend in New York and San Francisco and debuts in Los Angeles this weekend (visit the film’s website for additional dates and locations) tells the story of Mohamed Nasheed, a Maldivian political activist turned president who endured years of imprisonment and torture at the hands of his island nation’s government to rise up and become the country’s first democratically elected leader in 2008. Made up of a series of flat islands that only rise 1.5 meters above sea level, the Maldives are kind of a canary in the coalmine when it comes to global warming. A mere 3 foot rise in the level of the world’s oceans would render uninhabitable an archipelago that has known civilization for thousands of years. For Nasheed obviously, a reduction in global carbon output was critical mission number one. The Island President traces the charismatic and persuasive leader’s first year in office culminating in his efforts at the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change Summit.

In addition to refocusing a distracted world’s attention on a pressing global problem, this documentary shows how even the seemingly smallest voices can have an extraordinary impact. In anticipation of the film’s April 6th Los Angeles debut, I recently spoke on the telephone with Jon Shenk, the director and cinematographer of The Island President. Check out my conversation over at Awards Daily.

2 Responses to “Director Jon Shenk talks about his doc “The Island President””

  1. I saw THE ISLAND PRESIDENT at Manhattan’s Film Forum this past Tuesday night. I know Nasheed has been there on three occasions to introduce the film and moderate a Q & A, but I was unable to get there until now. As Shenk framed him in this outstanding documentary, he is personable, filled with passion for his homeland, and driven by a mission that sadly got derailed after he was ousted at gunpoint after the documentary was made. This of course has not taken him out of the picture, as he continues to bring his case to the world court of opinion, and stands behind everything he has fought for both as a citizen of Maldives and as his leader for four years. Some of the most engaging sequences in the film were the ones where Nasheed visits the Islanders, takes boats rides to the smaller members of the chain, and conducts press conferences in the shallow water around the beaches that have eroded. Wonderful interview with the director here. I quite agree that a separate documentary could have been made just about the beauty of the Maldives, and even about the history of the islands, which dates back to three thousand years of human habitation. Totally agree too that Mr. Shenk has made this political crises and thread to the very existence of a culture a human story, and a very affecting one at that. The Copenhagen summit and the various trips around the world in behalf of his nation yielded some engaging footage, and the showcasing of Nasheed as a real natural who holds his own as a speaker and promoter.

  2. Nasheed is quite a character and I suspect he might even be able to accomplish more as a free agent so to speak.

    I’m skeptical though whether this (or any) doc will be able to movie the needle on change. The right has pretty well obfuscated the issue and we’ve all moved on to other issues. I hope i’m wrong.

    Either way, it’s still a terrific doc.

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