“Paradise crossed with paradise”: To those of us who have never visited the Maldives—nestled in the Laccadive Sea 250 miles off the coast of India—President Mohamed Nasheed’s description of his island-nation home may sound like a haughty boast. But the crisp, expansive imagery in Jon Shenk’s uneven yet informative documentary more than lends credence to the assertion. With its glistening waters, endlessly blue skies and sunshine by the yard, the Maldives is a moneyed tourist’s haven. But it is also a country fraught with political turmoil.
Originally a grassroots activist and journalist, Nasheed won the nation’s first democratic elections, in 2008, displacing the corrupt and dictatorial Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. Shenk recaps the long-fought struggle and events leading up to the vote in the herky-jerky early scenes—a weak succession of YouTube-sourced stock footage and “And this happened…” talking-head testimonies. But then he gets to the good stuff, laser-focusing on Nasheed’s preparations for the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit, where he plans to call attention to the unavoidably devastating effects that global warming is having on his country. The Island President becomes a gripping end-of-the-world countdown movie in which the clock doesn’t run out, but keeps getting frustratingly reset by bureaucrats more focused on short-term gains than long-term losses. It’s fascinating to be so close to a then-sitting head of state as he negotiates for his homeland’s survival, and the news that Nasheed was recently deposed in a coup by Gayoom loyalists makes the hard-won victories he did secure all the more poignant.
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