The Island President

The tiny island nation of Maldives is rapidly vanishing thanks to rising sea levels, and its leader—now ex-leader—Mohamed Nasheed is doing everything he can to coerce the world’s superpowers to do something about it. That’s the story behind Jon Shenk’s documentary, The Island President. It’s a David vs. Goliath tale of epic proportions and of colossal importance.

But something gets lost in translation from the real world to the screen. There isn’t a story out there more worthy of documentary treatment than The Island President; The mainstream press is much more interested in shit American politicians say than actual global crises. But Shenk manages to strip Nasheed’s struggle to save his nation and its people of any and all cinematic qualities. There’s no suspense, no real narrative arc, no character identification—nothing.

One of the main problems is that the film is essentially a two-hour interview with one man, and no matter how noble he and his cause are, he remains a politician at heart. He’s just a little too polished to come across as genuine, and maybe that’s my predisposition to distrusting politicians creeping in, but if you compare this film to a documentary like Exit Through the Gift Shop (or even something minor like Morgan Spurlock’s Comic-Con doc), there’s very little that feels off-the-cuff. Though Nasheed is clearly speaking from the heart, his sense of urgency doesn’t come through.

You can’t blame an interview subject for a bad interview, however. Shenk should have poked and prodded. In lieu of that, it’s his job to punch the film up with some directorial flare, but everything in The Island President feels flat. It’s a film that I suspected would be right up my alley. I’m a big politics buff, and the environment is probably the issue I feel most passionately about. But The Island President is a sleepy film that can’t hide behind its earnestness for long. It wasn’t but 30 minutes before I started checking my watch, and nothing that happened after that point stopped my slide toward dissatisfaction.

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