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The Island President

DVD Three Stars
The Island President is an important documentary that should be seen and although I do say that about a lot of documentaries that address important issues it is because they do just that, address important issues, and that's what The Island President does. For me there's nothing more important in a documentary than throwing light on an issue that is being ignored or deliberately diminished and even more so when the issue has such serious global implications.

The film doesn't just decide to focus on one issue though as it's trying to take up a couple, either referred to briefly or as the core of the story. Here there are two key issues and both affect the future of an entire people and the crumbling of the cliff edge for the rest of the world.

The Island President looks at the democratic reform of the Maldives and the attempts of their first democratically elected President to push the world leaders to press ahead with reductions in carbon emissions because if they don't within a hundred years the Maldives and the people who live there will be gone.

Plot.pngTheIslandPresident.jpgI've more or less given it away now, but after bringing democracy to his country, President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives, the lowest-lying country in the world, takes up the fight to keep his homeland from disappearing under the sea as global warming threatens to drown the thousands of islands and the people who live there. Building to a key Climate Summit in Copenhagen about Global Warming with the world leaders fighting over an agreeable limit of emissions, the film tells the President's growing struggle to get everyone to do the right thing.

TheFilm.pngI always have an immediate problem when reviewing a film that has something as important to tackle as The Island President does because its message is so important and needs to be heard so how can I say anything that could stand in the way of that message just because I don't think the film is good entertainment or not?

To be fair I don't review documentaries on whether they are good entertainment or not but surely you understand, should we even be reviewing the film or should we review the message it has to give regardless of how it delivers it? It's a difficult situation and if I feel that there's something lacking in the film am I harming the spreading of the message, the most important part of the documentary?

I think the two have to be considered, by all means review the film but then also make sure the readers know how important the message is and how important the need is for it to be heard. With The Island President this message is very important and it needs to be heard.

Of course if you're one of those people who believe in made up stories and fairies and that science is fake then this message is all lies and none of this is happening, la-la-la, but that's not really the point about this film. The Island President isn't here to convince you that Global Warming is happening because it is, the Maldives are eroding and sinking, the film is here to tell you about the struggle of the country who are destined to be the first environmental refugees or perhaps the first culture to be wiped out by Global Warming and the world's ignorance.

Bear in mind though we're not just talking about the Maldives because their sea level is the same as part of Manhattan, or Holland, or any number of coastlines or reclaimed land around the world, and while you might be focussed on a group of islands that you may have visited on holiday think of the places much nearer to you that could go too, perhaps that might make it a little more personal.

Of course if you're just not into the environmental message for whatever blinkered reason then there are other reasons to watch the film because, as you'll find, there are other messages in the film and it isn't about preaching Global Warming to the audience, in fact I've probably preached more in this opening.

So, let's put that aside all that and get into the review, and it's a pretty easy one. The Island President is a must see film, to quote poster troll reviewers everywhere.

The documentary has a surprising amount of access, in fact I think you could go so far as to say this is pretty unprecedented (say it, it sounds better) as the cameras follow the President into cabinet meetings in the Maldives to important meetings at the Copenhagen Summit with other Presidents and important officials from around the world.

This access allows you closer to the President and his beliefs and help to show just how impassioned he is about the subject of saving his people, country and his culture. It even shows you discourse within his own team, something that any other similarly important person just wouldn't allow you to see. The beauty is that it brings the President more humanity and closer to the audience.

The film tells a fascinating and personal journey for the President and indeed for his country, bringing to the fore a story that encompasses such things as democracy for a people, Islam and democracy working together, and the terrible time that President Nasheed lived through at the hands of the oppressive regime and through that we are given some surprising and rather shocking moments and revelations.

While the Maldives delegation do come out looking hugely positive what shows most from the meetings with other countries and the Copenhagen conference is the stubbornness and blinkered ignorance of other world leaders and political figures who are focussed more on their political careers, ensuring they continue their country's political games, and of course the money.

So I have said all the good things about the film but it's not all perfect. The subject matter is weighty, it's presented well and connects personally, and it does pack a punch, however I wonder if it really does drive home the message that it's trying to sell. Do we really get the weight of what's happening to those in the Maldives?

From the opening scenes we're told how the Maldives is being affected by erosion and rising sea levels and that every year it's losing more and more coastline, later on we hear that their fresh water is being contaminated by more and more sea water and while we see some physical examples we don't see scientific explanation of the loss. Not that I'm disputing the claims for we do see evidence but I was waiting to see outlines of the coast moving inwards year after year, or figures to show the rising sea levels or diminishing fresh water, something visual, hard and fast, and something that shows us in a moment just how serious this all is.

Without this I do feel the documentary is lacking some of the weight that it really needs from the beginning, something that will stay with you throughout the film, something that would have delivered that shocking punch that you'd continue to feel as the issues are revisited.

It's later that the weight of the issue comes to the fore again when we're watching the events at the Copenhagen Summit. If we had felt these initial punches it would have made these moments even more dramatic and raised the tension quite a bit, especially during the scenes where the other countries are deciding the fate of the Summit and the Maldives.

There's another trick missed here during these sequences. We don't really feel the sway of the countries back and forth to the plight of the Maldives and I do wish this had been given more drama for the audience, letting us see who was for and against, and making it very clear who didn't really care for the people and the culture that seem so doomed.

The ending of the film is rather downbeat, and rightfully so considering events. I do wish we had a little more understanding of the effects of the coup on the plans of the Maldives and where they stand today, something to inspire the audience to fight for democracy in this country and to fight to save their country.

Audio.png5.1, 2.0
There's nothing to be achieved with the 5.1 audio track and it would have been just fine in stereo.

The picture is good but since it's a documentary with all hand-held camera work there's not much need for a glossy brochure of fantastic pictures to sell the Maldives.

Extras.pngQ&A; at the Commonwealth Club Screening with Director Jon Shenk; Hilton Lightstay Sustainability Award
The extras are distinctly lacking when there is clearly so much material out there about the regime changes, the Maldives, the facts and figures behind the story, and so on. What we do get is a little Q&A; and a marketing piece.

Q&A; at the Commonwealth Club Screening with Director Jon Shenk
The Q&A; is interesting and gives us an insight into what has happened since the film was made and I couldn't help but think that we should have had more of this story somewhere in the film or in the extras.

Hilton Lightstay Sustainability Award
This is a short marketing piece about the film and the award which needed much more explanation and weight to have any real understanding of what it means.

Overall.pngThe Island President is an important documentary that really should be seen not just to help raise awareness to save a culture from at worst extinction or at best from becoming the world's first environmental refugees but also to rightfully restore democracy to the islands so that its people can start their move to zero carbon emissions again.

It's a powerful film that provides incredible access to the President and his team and to their efforts to persuade the international community to help fight to save their country and culture.

While the extras are lacking and there could have been more to build up the dramatic weight and drive home the scope of the disaster facing the people of the Maldives, the film still delivers some surprises and a strong message, proving to be as engaging and entertaining as it is inspirational and rousing. It's another must see documentary that needs to be taken seriously.

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Rent or watch online from LOVEFiLM
UK IMDB Film Details



Huge fan of this doc when I caught it last month. It gave an alternative twist on a region we usually just see as some sort of paradise.



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