The Island President

April 22, 2013


Jon Shenk


About the Documentary

Jon Shenk’s The Island President tells the story of former president Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives, a man confronting a problem greater than any other world leader has ever faced—the survival of his country and everyone in it. After bringing democracy to the Maldives after thirty years of despotic rule, Nasheed is now faced with an even greater challenge: As one of the most low-lying countries in the world, a rise of three feet in sea level would submerge the 1200 islands of the Maldives enough to make them uninhabitable.

The Island President captures Nasheed’s first year of office, culminating in his trip to the Copenhagen Climate Summit in 2009, where the film provides a rare glimpse of the political horse-trading that goes on at such a top-level global assembly. Nasheed is unusually candid about revealing his strategies —leveraging the Maldives’ underdog position as a tiny country, harnessing the power of media, and overcoming deadlocks through an appeal to unity with other developing nations. When hope fades for a written accord to be signed, Nasheed makes a stirring speech, which salvages an agreement. Despite the modest size of his country, Mohamed Nasheed has become one of the leading international voices for urgent action on climate change.

In February 2012, the military and police ousted Mohamed Nasheed as leader of the Maldives. Since the power shake-up that put President Mohammed Waheed Hassan and the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) in control, Nasheed has led protests and begun campaigning for an election scheduled later in 2013. However, the current government has other plans. They’ve accused Nasheed of illegally arresting a judge during his time in office, and if Nasheed is convicted, he will be ineligible to run. So far, Nasheed refused to appear at his trial. He was arrested briefly for defying the court order, but returned to the campaign trail in the southeastern Meemu Atoll. But in March 2013, a court in the Maldives banned Nasheed from traveling abroad and he was subsequently arrested and imprisoned.

The Filmmaker

Jon Shenk is a documentary filmmaker, cinematographer, and founder of Actual Films. He was the Director of Photography for the Academy Award-winning Smile Pinki (2009) and was awarded an Emmy for Blame Somebody Else (2007), a feature story about human trafficking for the PBS series, Exposé. Shenk directed and photographed the Emmy-nominated Lost Boys of Sudan (2004), a feature documentary that follows two young refugees of Sudan’s civil war through their first year in America. He has produced and photographed dozens of documentaries for PBS, the BBC, A&E, Bravo, CBS, NBC, and National Geographic and has been nominated twice for Emmys for his cinematography. He received a B.A. from Yale in 1991 and a M.A. in Documentary Filmmaking from Stanford in 1995.


Full Credits


  • International Documentary Association

    Pare Lorentz Award

  • Toronto International Film Festival

    People's Choice Award

  • Sheffield International Documentary Festival

    Sheffield Green Award - Special Mention

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Join the Discussion

Not everyone agrees about the science of climate change, but it’s increasingly hard to ignore the effects of extreme weather events and a measurable rise in sea level. Do you live in an area that may be affected by global warming? Are you motivated to try and change public policy relating to the environment?


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