For most people, visualizing life on a tropical island brings to mind a picture of serenity. Lazing in the sun under a breezy palm tree, while listening to gently lapping waves, sounds like paradise.
But life in Maldives, a 1,190-island nation in the Indian Ocean, is hardly idyllic. In fact, the country has been mired in political turmoil for over three decades. Former dictator Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was accused of torturing and imprisoning dissidents until riots forced the election of President Mohamed Nasheed in 2008.
But that’s not the worst of it. Politics aside, the country is literally sinking. Because of global warming and melting ice caps, sea levels are rising. For the 200 inhabited islands of Maldives, it means less fishing, seawater seeping into fresh groundwater, and the erosion of beaches for its mostly Muslim residents.
In the documentary, “The Island President,” filmmakers follow President Nasheed as he attends the Climate Control Summit in Denmark to present a document requesting that developed countries halt carbon emissions that are contributing to the submersion of Maldives. But superpowers like China feel singled out and refuse to cooperate.
Revisiting the past, the filmmakers also tell the story of Nasheed’s election after being tortured and imprisoned by the previous regime for publishing a magazine critical of the administration.
As both the director and cinematographer, Jon Sten effortlessly captures panoramic scenes both in and out of Maldives. And, when he shoots Nasheed holding the first underwater cabinet meeting to demonstrate what the country will become without intervention, the result is breathtaking. Sten also demonstrates expertise at catching intimate snatches of conversation between Nasheed, his aides and foreign dignitaries.
Unfortunately, in February before the film’s release, Nasheed was deposed, reportedly at gunpoint. With climate change issues still a major concern, Maldivians could lose the paradise they call home.
“Whore’s Glory ” is director Micahel Glawogger’s documentary about the oldest profession in the world. Training his lens on three countries where prostitution is legal, he journeys to Thailand, Bangladesh and Mexico.
Going behind the scenes to humanize female sex workers and their customers, Glawogger creates a highly stylized film, which because of its smooth talking characters and raucous pop music sometimes seems scripted.
In Bangok, young women chat about getting their hair done before sharing a meal and heading to the job where they actually clock in on a time clock. Stopping at a Buddhist shrine on their way, they offer incense and pray for more tricks. At the Fish Tank where they work, the ladies wear numbers on their chests and perch on cushions behind a glass window. Male customers on the other side choose a number they like — the same way diners at a seafood restaurant select fish they want to eat. Like all working girls, the hookers complain, gossip, and encourage each other whenever one of them gets a nibble. Meanwhile, the men discuss their boring, sexless wives and the prostitutes’ various specialties. What’s most surprising is how tame this first episode is compared to the following two.
Visiting Faridpur Bangladesh’s “City of Joy,” Glawogger encounters impoverished girls who are bought, sold and pimped by brothel madams. Lining up in hallways, the prostitutes claw at strolling potential customers while a young boy lies sleeping on the floor. And, instead of reciting Buddhist sutras, these Muslim ladies burn sage around their rooms and doorways.
By the time, the filmmakers arrive in Reynosa’s “La Zona” in Mexico, they seem to have become victims of their own stimulated libidos, perhaps from all the earlier voyeurism. Here, they go as far as filming several nude scenes including one extremely pornographic encounter between a prostitute and her trick. As cars circle around a brothel, like wolves tracking their prey, hookers stand in doorways waving sweetly. Interestingly, these Catholic girls pray to the Death Goddess to deliver them from black magic.
In spite of their religious beliefs, all of the prostitutes evidently feel vulnerable. When the credits roll, this terse sentence appears: “No one wanted to be mentioned by name.” Perhaps they should have considered not being seen in a movie either.
“The Island President” shows at the SIFF Uptown starting on May 4. “Whores’ Glory” began showing at the NW Film Forum beginning on April 27.