Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | November 13th, 2020
I Am Greta (Nathan Grossman, 2020) 4 out of 4 stars.
Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, born in Stockholm in 2003 and standing all of 4’11”, does not, at first glance, resemble the force of nature she has become in this world. With her round cheeks still encased in vestiges of baby fat and her hair in pigtails, she appears very much the teenage girl she is, if even that, though the steely glint in her eye somewhat gives the game away. “I am not to be trifled with,” her gaze seems to say. Indeed, she is not. In just two short years since her school strike for climate awareness in 2018, Thunberg’s message – that the future is now, and the time for action was yesterday – has spread across the globe like the ever-more-violent hurricanes that now threaten our shores, whipping fellow young people (and their older allies) into a frenzy of motivation. She is of our moment, and hopefully will remain so, for her voice gives hope to millions that change is possible. Ignore her at our own peril, for the Earth is changing whether we believe in science or not.
In I Am Greta, director Nathan Grossman, making his feature debut, follows his dynamo subject from her home country to trips across Europe and then to the United States, which she reached after crossing the Atlantic by racing yacht in August 2019, avoiding plane travel and using a more carbon-neutral means of conveyance. We start there, as the ocean heaves the small craft to and fro, Greta caught on a locked-down camera, staring into the distance. Ever pensive, she is nevertheless quite capable of laughter (she is a kid, after all, and one would hope that life has its joyful moments), as we see when we join her, a year earlier. There she is, on the street with a placard reading ““Skolstrejk för Klimatet” (or “School Strike for Climate”), still serious when people ask her what she’s doing, but later easing up when at home. Not that we should judge anyone by their moods and emotions; it’s just nice to see how pleasant her family life can be.
It’s father Svante who shepherds her around (and joins her on the Atlantic crossing), as guardian, helpmate and confidant. After her 2018 strike draws a lot of local attention, Greta is invited to a UN conference in Poland, then to Brussels, and then everywhere (at least in Europe). A gifted, passionate, multilingual speaker, she has a knack for puncturing adult hypocrisy with simple truths: fix the problem now or we may all die. It’s hard to argue with that, though Grossman makes sure we see and hear those who do (including America’s soon to be ex-president). Unbowed, uncowed, afraid only of her own insecurities and pressured mostly by her own compulsion to get things just right (endlessly editing her speeches), Greta shows that good things truly can come in tiny packages.
Grossman is granted marvelous access, having lucked out, early on, while filming Greta’s initial strike, and never letting go. He combines the intimate footage he gathers with archival material and interviews, exploring Greta’s Asperger syndrome, her refusal to eat and speak for a few months after she turned 11, and more, including why this issue is so important to her (which should be a given, as it should be important to all). Though she is the focus here, she is not alone; there is a movement afoot, similar to the one profiled in Kim A. Snyder’s recent Us Kids (where teens take on gun culture), and if we are lucky, real transformation might lie ahead. Given the massive pushback from right-wing politicians and the energy industry, I wouldn’t quite count on it, but at least, in the meantime, we can take inspiration from Greta and her peers, and from this stirring documentary tribute to their work.
[I Am Greta is now available on Hulu.]