The Island President

The impassioned president of the Maldives struggles to save his vulnerable island nation from the tragic effects of the looming climate apocalypse.

Island president 01
Independent Lens
Premiere Date
April 22, 2013
90 minutes
Funding Initiative
Series and Special Projects
  • Award laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    2012 International Documentary Association (IDA)-Pare Lorentz Award
  • Shenk jon filmmaker bio

    Jon Shenk

    Jon Shenk is an award-winning documentary filmmaker, cinematographer, and a founder of Actual Films in San Francisco. He co-directed Afghanistan: Hell of a Nation for PBS’s Wide Angle series, and is currently producing New Heroes, a series for PBS about social entrepreneurs. He produced, directed, and photographed The Beginning, a cinema-verité documentary about the making of Star Wars: Episode I, The Phantom Menace, which was released on the Phantom Menace DVD. He has produced and photographed documentaries for MTV’s True Life series about high school football in Texas and about the culture surrounding the drug MDMA (Ecstasy). He also has produced documentaries for the George Lucas Educational Foundation’s series Teaching in the Digital Age. Actual Films is currently producing The Rape of Europa, a three-part series for PBS about the fate of fine art during Third Reich and World War II. Jon also works as a freelance documentary cinematographer for PBS, National Geographic, A&E, Bravo, CBS, NBC, and the BBC. He also worked as assistant editor on Cadillac Desert, a PBS series by Jon Else about the history of the struggle for water in the American West. He earned his master's in documentary filmmaking from Stanford University in 1995.

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    Cohen bonni filmmaker bio

    Bonni Cohen

    Bonni Cohen started Actual Films in 1998 with her partner and husband, Jon Shenk. Bonni recently co-directed and produced The Rape of Europa, a feature-length documentary for primetime PBS. The film is an adaptation of Lynn Nicholas’ National Book Award-winning history of the same name. Bonni also produced Wonders Are Many, a film by Jon Else about the making of the John Adams’ opera, Doctor Atomic. It had its national television broadcast on PBS’s Independent Lens series. In 2004, Bonni co-produced a film about Afghanistan’s constitutional process for PBS’s Wide Angle series. She also produced and directed a number of films for a PBS series called The New Heroes. Bonni produced and directed a one-hour special for national PBS entitled The Nobel: Visions of Our Century, an analysis of 100 years of the Nobel prize told from the perspectives of 11 different Nobel laureates. For the BBC Correspondent series, she directed and produced Eye of the Storm, an intimate, verité portrait of United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan that follows his diplomatic efforts from Baghdad to Nigeria to New York. Eye of the Storm has been shown around the world in over 125 countries. She co-produced They Drew Fire, a feature documentary about the combat artists of World War II which aired nationally on PBS in 2000. Bonni is currently making a film for National Geographic’s Explorer series about Guantanamo Bay. Before coming to documentary film, Bonni worked as a journalist for Reuters Television and was based in London and Jerusalem.

    Berge richard filmmaker bio

    Richard Berge

    Richard Berge is a filmmaker who has made documentaries for PBS, Showtime, A&E Biography, Omnimedia, and the California Arts Council. He was a writer, producer, and director of The Rape of Europa (2006), the documentary film adaptation of Lynn Nicholas’s landmark history of the fate of art during the Third Reich and Second World War. The NEH-supported film was broadcast by PBS as a primetime special in November, 2008, and it was nominated for two Emmy Awards and for Best Documentary Screenplay by the Writers Guild of America. With director Barry Levinson, he wrote and produced Yesterday’s Tomorrows (1999), a feature documentary that examines the human obsession with predicting the future. The film was broadcast by Showtime Networks and featured in a Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition that toured the United States. Richard wrote and produced profiles of visual and performing artists for Make: Television (2008, Twin Cities Public Television) and SPARK! (2003-04, KQED), two weekly series for public television. He was line producer for Jon Else’s Sing Faster: The Stagehands’ Ring Cycle (1999), a feature documentary that received the Filmmakers Trophy at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival and aired on PBS’s Independent Lens. He was production manager for In Search Of Law And Order (1998), a series about the American juvenile justice system produced for PBS and Channel 4, and production coordinator for Cadillac Desert (1997), the landmark series produced for PBS by Jon Else about history of the quest and struggle for water in the American West. Before completing the master’s program in documentary filmmaking at Stanford University in 1994, Richard worked at the Santa Fe Opera in New Mexico and the Metropolitan Opera in New York. He received his bachelor’s degree in history from Stanford University in 1984. Richard is a member of the Writers Guild of America.

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    The Film

    The Island President lifts the issue of global warming out of the theoretical and into the personal. President Mohamed Nasheed is trying to prevent 385,000 people from drowning. His nation of 1,200 low-lying islands, the Maldives, is sinking into the Indian Ocean as sea levels rise due to global warming. Climate change experts say that some of the islands will be submerged within 20 years, threatening the lives of the largely impoverished inhabitants as well as inundating the lavish resorts that dot the islands. Nasheed’s unprecedented contingency plan is to move his entire population to a new homeland. As he conducts serious discussions about this with Sri Lanka and Australia, Nasheed is doing all he can to prevent this looming disaster by trying to convince world leaders to halt global warming.

    The Island President is a little like a non-fiction Mr. Smith Goes to Washington elevated to the world stage. The filmmakers received exclusive access to follow President Nasheed as he prepared over several months for the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Summit in December. The terms of the 1997 Kyoto Treaty on Climate Change were about to expire, and leaders from around the world converged on Copenhagen to hammer out a new treaty with renewed urgency. Go behind the scenes with President Nasheed as he tries to convince world leaders to finally take serious action against looming danger of climate change. The stakes couldn’t be higher for President Nasheed, who may be faced with the last chance to save his homeland, and the world.