I Am Greta: Director Nathan Grossman’s Docu of Teenage Climate Activist Greta Thunberg

Directed by Nathan Grossman
Produced by Cecilia Nessen, Frederik Heinig
**WORLD PREMIERE – Venice Film Festival 2020**
**OFFICIAL SELECTION – Toronto Film Festival 2020**
The story of teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg is told through compelling, never-before-seen footage in this intimate documentary from Swedish director Nathan Grossman. Starting with her one-person school strike for climate action outside the Swedish Parliament, Grossman follows Greta – a shy student with Asperger’s – in her rise to prominence, and her galvanizing global impact as she sparks school strikes around the world. The film culminates with her astonishing wind powered voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to speak at the UN Climate Action Summit in New York City.
Interview with Greta
Question: Was it difficult to decide to have a movie made about you? To allow yourself to be filmed for so long?
Greta: Well, no. I mean, in the beginning it wasn’t really meant to be a movie. We didn’t know. Nathan was just following me around and said like, Oh, can I join you? And I said, Yeah, sure. He was just in the background, making no sound or noise or whatever, he didn’t disturb me. So, I just let him let him film me. And then when the movement really started to take off, it suddenly became something much bigger that no one could ever have predicted. So, in the beginning, it wasn’t like, do you want someone to make a movie about you, quite the opposite. It was just, he was following me around and then it became something much, much more. I mean, if I can be some kind of the bridge so that people can identify more with the climate crisis and understand it more, then I guess that is a good thing. It shouldn’t be too much focused on me as an individual, which it has been so far, of course, and not so much focused on the climate, I mean, in the global debate. But I think with this film, they are trying to, through portraying an individual, sort of telling the story that this cannot be up to individuals and we cannot focus this much on individuals because that’s too much on just one person, we need to see a holistic point of view. So I think that is also something that they have tried to communicate through this movie. I think it’s a very good thing.


Nathan, what do you think it is that makes a Gretta so effective as a spokesperson for the fight against climate change ?

Nathan: I think Gretta you’re very intellectual, which I think I’ve always liked with you and which I think is shown in the movie. But what I’m also a little bit jealous about Gretta, especially now when I have to do lots of interviews, is how concise and how good you are on concretizing this very complex issue of climate change and making it understandable for people, which I’m very impressed with. And that’s been from the beginning.


How does it feel to be showing this film at Venice given the precarious nature of this city on the water?

Nathan: I’ve never been to Venice, and when I went through the canals, when I came the day before yesterday, it’s such a beautiful city, it’s such a heritage. And I actually thought to myself when I saw this one set of six structures that it would be such a sad thing to see a place like this get devastated by rising sea level. So, I think one thing which me and Gretta have in common is that we see the effects of the climate crisis wherever we go, because we’re interested in this topic. And in a city like Venice, it’s hard not to think about it when you’re here.Do you agree that the fact that the film is in Venice is sort of a an extra level of meaning 

Greta: Yeah, definitely. I completely agree. It’s very symbolic.


Question: Too much responsibility for a kid. Do you feel that its too much responsibility on you?

Greta: Yeah, I mean, that really shows that this is too much responsibility for children. We should not be the ones having to do this. It should be up to up to adults and people in power and those who have caused this problem in the first place. It should not be up to children to communicate this crisis, because that is the media’s job and that is the job of the people in power. Right now that responsibility falls on scientists and just children. So yeah, I think that is too much responsibility for children to have.

Voicing Frustration?

Greta: Well, if you look at it from a different perspective; since Nathan started filming, and since he started following me and also since he stopped following me, we still haven’t treated the crisis like a crisis. There is still no sense of awareness, whatsoever, basically. And yet we are still not treating the climate crisis like a crisis, and that is what we need to do, to be able to put it in simple words, to solve this.


Size of the material collected?

Nathan: As I started it, as Greta pointed out, I had not much idea to do it was much like long shot to see where it could head. I think we filmed for like one or two days in the beginning just to see there was any worth of it. But then I continued that way of cinema verité of just following her. Both because I like that style of documentary filmmaking, but also because the movement and what was happening around Greta kind of took off and she started to travel around the world and I felt that that kind of style of making this film would be the right one.


Your daily life working on your discourses?

Greta:  I guess so because it really shows that some people say. They spread conspiracy theories and say I don’t speak for myself, or someone else writes my speeches. And I think that in the movie you can see that that is not actually true. And that I do, of course, speak for myself and I decide everything for myself. So yeah, that is a consequence; that you can actually see it for yourself.


The film stops at the end of 2019?

Greta:  I mean, the next steps now for the movement or for the film? We want to continue communicating the crisis and demanding change. Demanding a safe future in the way that is most safe and that doesn’t put anyone at risk. And that is in line with COVID-19 restrictions, of course. To just continue pushing and to increase the movement. Just try to continue spreading awareness.


Nathan: And I also think what is so interesting is that what’s happening right now with COVID, of course we don’t know exactly when it will end and how things develop. But of course, we know that the climate crisis isn’t fading away. There’s still pollutants getting out in the air every second as we’re sitting here. So I’m very confident that I don’t think I can say how the climate kind of strikes and how the movement will look like in the future. But I’m confident that young people be will be very, very upset that the crisis hasn’t been handled when the COVID crisis is over. Because it seems like humanity has a hard time treating two crises at the same time, and I think that’s sad because we don’t have much time in dealing with the climate crisis. So maybe we need to be able to juggle to crises at the same time, I think.


Your public speeches?

Greta:  I don’t know because I was so young when I first find out about the climate crisis. But yeah, I’ve always been very fascinated about science. And when I was younger, I thought when I grew up I wanted to become a scientist and spend the rest of my life in a dark lab, in a basement. That’s how I imagined my life to be, that’s how I wanted it to be. But then I realized that what we need right now is to take action. Yes, we need more science, and we need to do more research, definitely, but what do we need above all is to take action to change the social norms, and to take political action. So maybe that’s where I can be most useful.


Nathan: I think part of the film and why I wanted people to get to know Greta as I know her, which is not as a global icon as people always say. It’s also for them to understand that she’s not doing this, as she says, to become like a celebrity or a social media figure. She’s doing this out of sheer passion of this subject. And I think in the film you really get to understand that much, much more than you maybe do in the in the regular kind of news media where everything is so compressed and Greta, and myself now for this film, are reduced to short quotes. So I hope that’s a part of what you see in the film.


Balance between her public persona and her everyday life as a child

Cecilia: Well, it took many, many months of editing to find that balance. And I would say we wanted to make a climate film in a new way that is less based on figures and facts and more emotional. And for us to tell an emotional story we needed to get some insight into Greta’s life and her struggles and what she likes to do. To learn more about her, basically, was our goal all along, but it was a struggle.


Nathan: I also think it’s so interesting because in the movie we work with kind of juxtaposition. Because every person is three dimensional, there is so many angles to it. And, I think, in the film it becomes an interesting and sweet use of those juxtapositions between private life and these big political arena. I think everyone who has a public persona could have a movie made by them showing kind of that there are different layers to anyone. And so from fairly early on in filming that was one of the things that I really wanted to bring into the film.


Small crew?

Greta:  it was you handling everything. You have the camera and you didn’t have sound guy so it was not very professional. (laughter) It was very spontaneous and like, oh could I put the microphone on you? And then he did it like quickly and really ugly, and he just followed me around basically. He didn’t make much noise. So, I could just do what I would do anyway and he would just behind me filming what I was doing.


Nathan: Were you worried anytime, Greta, that my non-professionalism would become a bad movie?


Greta:  Sometimes I actually doubted since you said, this might be something big, and I said, why don’t they send like a sound guy or anything? (laughter) Why don’t they have more professional? So I think maybe on some level, I doubted the seriousness of the project.


Worried that you wouldn’t recognize yourself

Greta:  I was actually a bit worried because he had so much, he had been following me for so long and he could choose to maybe tell the story in a way that wouldn’t reflect to me, really. But I think you did succeed in framing me as myself and not the person that media frames me to be. Not the angry, naive child who sits in the United Nations general assembly screaming at world leaders because that’s not the person I am. So, I think he definitely made me seem like a more shy, nerdy person. Which is the person that I am.


What were the things that surprised you about Greta?

Nathan: No, but it feel’s nice hearing Greta say that about the film. It’s always been what I kind of wanted to do. Greta doesn’t like me saying this sometimes, but I actually think that the most surprising thing I found about Greta is that she’s very, very funny. Sometimes I joke that you should be a comedian if you wouldn’t become a climate activists. So, I think spending that much time together with Greta was such an important thing for me having the energy to follow them that she’s very charming and funny, as you have seen in this conference.


JGreta:  Well, I can answer it really quickly because then I need to get back to class. Yes, of course, the COVID-19 crisis has affected everyone. Because this is such a crisis and we aren’t able to handle two crises at the same time, all other things have been put on hold. And that is just how you… No one expects anything else, but we definitely need to understand the urgency of the climate crisis and treat it as a crisis because otherwise we won’t be able to create real change. So that is what we need to do right now. So, thank you everyone. And now I need to get back to class.


Nathan: If you want I can just continue on the that same question; I think that, once again, it’s hard for us to know exactly what’s going to happen with COVID. But I think nothing in history is in a vacuum. And I think what Greta, and so many of these children have done is that they have built such a momentum and I think that that momentum, I don’t know exactly how it will develop in the future, but it is there, kind of, sleeping. The climate crisis isn’t going away.


Planning to film more?

Nathan: I haven’t plans to continue to follow her, specifically, but climate change and environmental issues is at the core of what I regard as my focus in filmmaking. And sadly, if we don’t act very, very quickly, we will see even more effects of climate change and how that will affect people. And I want to continue making films about that.


Footage discarded?

Nathan: Of course, you have to kill lots of darlings, and then you have fantastic editors who help you out with that job. And without them, we document filmmakers would be nothing. But I think, as we spoke about earlier, there is a neat balance from the private sphere and the public sphere, and trying to have the right elements. They went to Davos, she and her father, and they slept in a tent in minus twenty degrees because they didn’t want to live in the luxury hotel. Which is such a funny, and charming, and telling scene which we had to let go of because of the space. So that was really sad.


Did you show Greta the editing?

Nathan: So we had the easiest agreement in the documentary world, which is I would do my film and she would watch it when we were in the last, kind of, final editing. And she could look at it and see if there was something she thought about. And as she spoke about earlier, she actually didn’t have much comments. And she thought the portrayal was nice. The only thing that she wanted was actually to add more. Because, I think, it’s surprising for anyone how little actually fits into one and a half hours of a movie. So, it’s not like she wanted to remove, or they wanted to remove anything. Neither she or her father. It was padding, actually. Which we sadly couldn’t do because of space.