Samuel Goldwyn's Toronto Pickup 'The Island President' Takes On Urgency After Upheaval In Maldives

EXCLUSIVE: The Island President, the film about Maldives president Mohamed Nasheed and his quest to lobby for reforms that will ease global warming, has taken on a new context for Samuel Goldwyn Films after Nasheed was forced yesterday to resign at gunpoint. The distributor acquired the film at the 2011 Toronto Film Festival, where it won the audience award. The message of the movie is all about the environment, because because the Maldives is one of the most low-lying countries in the world, and a rise of just three feet in sea level would submerge the 1200 islands surrounded by the Indian Ocean, making them uninhabitable. There is new urgency for Nasheed, who, after bringing democracy to the Maldives following 30 years of despotic rule and using his presidency as a platform for environmental reforms, is in danger. Since being forced to resign, word is that the president and his party engaged in a peaceful march and were beaten. Samuel Goldwyn Films president Meyer Gottlieb said that the film is still set for a March 28 release, but the distributor will become more aggressive about screening the film for press in hopes of focusing more attention on the little known Maldives and its ousted leader.

The film was directed by Jon Shenk (Lost Boys of Sudan), and produced by Bonni Cohen and Richard Berge. They followed President Nasheed as he waged his campaign, culminating in his impassioned plea made at the Copenhagen Climate Summit in 2009. The filmmakers have issued this statement:

“Yesterday morning we woke up to the shocking news that President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives had resigned his office under duress. According to news reports and local sources, Nasheed faced the choice of using the military to quell a violent demonstration or stepping down to avoid bloodshed. In line with his long history of peaceful activism, he chose the latter. We have heard from eyewitnesses that Nasheed was initially being held under military arrest at the Presidential residence in Malé, the capital. We were told that before Nasheed stepped down, demonstrators loyal to former dictator, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, stood outside the President’s office shouting “Gayoom! Gayoom!” In addition to forcing his ouster, demonstrators stormed the national television station, detained journalists and replaced independent programming with that of the station run by Gayoom’s allies. It was reported to us, that last night the streets of Malé were eerily quiet with a military curfew imposed on the capital. Today, Nasheed spoke at a rally for the Maldivian Democratic Party and then led a peaceful march on the streets of the capital. The protesters were met by police in camouflage, with helmets, truncheons and tear gas. Many injuries are being reported.

“As filmmakers who spent two years off and on with President Nasheed while making The Island President, we witnessed a leader committed to transparent governance, multi-party democracy, and the struggle for human rights. This struggle includes his leadership in the fight against climate change that so threatens the Maldives and the rest of us. This is not the first time that Nasheed has suffered a political setback in his fight for justice in the Maldives. We expect this is just the next chapter. We are deeply concerned for Nasheed’s safety, we stand in solidarity with him and hope others will join us.”

Gottlieb told me they still hope to have Nasheed come to New York when the film gets its premiere, so that he can continue to press his case against global warming. Right now, though, everyone involved in the film is frightened for his safety. “He is a tough guy and he has been through this before, but the fact that his leadership has been diminished impacts all of us because climate change in the world impacts all of us,” Gottlieb told me. “Our hopes and wishes are with him, and we hope to see him overcome this and become president once again at the next elections, not only for his own people for everyone on the planet.”

Here is a trailer for the film:

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