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Filmmaker Jon Shenk and Alumnus Craig Hickerson Present for Green Week

Lauren Armstrong, April 19, 2013
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PUC celebrated Green Week 2013 through various on-campus activities. Events included a fashion show featuring upcycled clothing, a “design your own” Green Week t-shirt, and a demonstration on gardening, where participants built their own mini tabletop gardens. On Wednesday evening, a screening was held for the 2011 documentary The Island President, which tells the story of the president of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, and his fight to save the low-lying country from the rising sea.

On Thursday morning, the director and associate producer of the film joined the PUC family for the Colloquy Speaker Series. Jon Shenk, award-winning documentary filmmaker, cinematographer, and founder of Actual Films in San Francisco, and Craig Hickerson, ’10, a PUC alumnus working as the associate producer at Actual Films, discussed the documentary.

“We’re thrilled to have a speaker here to talk to us about how you can be thinking about being green on an international scale,” said Lisa Paulson, PUC vice president for student services and dean of students.

Shenk remembered discussing the vision for the film before work began on it—“to make a documentary that can facilitate a new kind of conversation about the environment and the problems we face.”

Prior to 2008, the Maldives had been under the dictatorship of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom for decades. “There was just this sense that it would never change, that it was always this way, and it would always be this way,” Shenk recalled, “Then, over the years, as he was dictator, these stories would emerge.” These stories reported the disappearance of those who opposed Gayoom and others who were arrested or imprisoned.

Then, a situation much like the Arab Spring arose, when Gayoom was ousted in favor of democratically elected Nasheed. “At his inaguration, Nasheed said some amazingly provocative things concerning the environment,” Shenk noted.

The concern for the future of the Maldives and its inhabitants was foremost, as land was already being lost to the rising sea. “As the president, it is very clear to me that the most important fight is the fight for our survival,” Nasheed stated in the film.

The film ends with scenes from the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, where Nasheed gave a speech to over 100 world leaders. “There was this thought in the environmental circles that this was a chance to actually come up with an agreement,” said Shenk. Although progress was made, the deal Nasheed and others hoped for was not.

Shenk urged young people to stay aware and active regarding environmnental issues. “Really in any walk of life, whether you’re a businessperson, whether you’re an English professor, a student, or a parent,” Shenk declared, “in any of those examples, there are things you can do to provide leadership in the environmental realm.”

The Island President will premiere on PBS this Monday, April 22, at 10 p.m. (Check local listings.)

Filmmaker Jon Shenk & Craig Hickerson