What a wonderful documentary is Jon Shenk’s The Island President, which just had its first viewing in North America here at the Telluride Film Festival. Beautifully shot, heartbreaking real, the film presents the everyday horror we’re all sort of living with: global warming is real and it feels like the end of everything. Though there probably isn’t a more hot-button issue, except maybe healthcare and abortion, the subject has been so politicized here the conversation has almost stopped. It’s stopped because most of us are hopeless. But it’s also stopped because, as Shenk told me during the Patron’s Brunch, it doesn’t have a world leader, not here in America anyway. It certainly has a leader, and a charismatic one, in Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives.
We first meet Nasheed as he’s making his plea to the global community to work together to help slow or stop global warming, which is now threatening to destroy his entire country. Nasheed makes a good subject because of his eternal optimism, as his wife puts it, but also his willingness to state things bluntly to anyone.
His powerful backstory and surprising election to office provides a great backdrop for the kind of desperation he’s presenting here both in terms of his own country, which is about to drown under sea water, and global warming throughout the world. The filmmakers do a nice job with atmosphere and exposing the beauty of the place, and how it might be all gone soon.
2011 seems to be presenting a rather bleak picture of the future. We don’t seem to know what’s coming but we’re all terrified as hell. Even still, The Island President plays more like a thriller and less like a doomsday warning. That’s due to the unfolding of exciting events as they happened, and were captured, in real time. But the director has a nice grasp of drama, too. It could have been dryly told and hard to take – but it turns out it’s funny, endearing, involving and motivating.
Will Oscar voters appreciate it? The film may or may not be put out for Oscar consideration this year so that question is premature. But it’s a great doc, one to pay close attention to as the year progresses. The one thing that never seems to work any magic on the nominating committee is hype.