This review was originally published 11/3/20
The best documentaries are multi-dimensional. These works manage to not only paint a picture of their subject but also understand the environment out of which they grew. Culture, and with that politics, is complicated. They influence not only each other but also cinema. I Am Greta hits Hulu this month after a screening at the Denver Film Festival. The feature captures a powerful snapshot of not only Greta Thunberg as the young face of climate change activism, but the movement itself and a vivid examination of one of the most tumultuous political periods in recent memory.
I Am Greta is a slice of life documentary, following Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg from the very beginnings of her work on climate change, through her widely covered speech in front of the United Nations. Nathan Grossman directs the film.
I Am Greta is most successful in that it grants Greta Thunberg a face and an identity. United States audiences know far less about Thunberg, with most of her early work taking place in Europe. As such her image has been defined by the news media in this country. She’s not an individual. Rather, she’s fodder for the talking heads. Her depiction is only dependent on how the individual journalist chooses to see climate change. I Am Greta changes this. Greta finally gets to speak for herself.
Greta Thunberg emerged for many as the voice of a generation. While she’s been put on a pedestal by some, she’s also been mocked, demeaned and even vilified by others. However, in watching I Am Greta, it’s suddenly easy to remember that she is also a teenager. As of writing this review, she is 17 years old. Grossman’s camera work in the documentary is intimate and powerful and takes a very hands-off approach. Instead of really crafting a narrative, he lets Greta’s face, her eyes and her words tell her own story.
In fact, a big part of I Am Greta’s emotional gut-punch is seeing this teenager (who already lives with Asperger’s syndrome) plunged into massive and overwhelming situations that would terrify even seasoned professionals. That being said, the documentary does a great job showing Thunberg for who she is. She talks on camera about how she thinks and how she learns. You see her struggle, but you also see her rise above them. In a particularly poignant moment, Thunberg’s father pulls an overwhelmed and stressed Greta back during a protest and insists his daughter stop to eat. However, later on, she giggles hysterically with her him over how “weird” she looks in a picture with the Pope and suddenly, she’s just a teenager again.
At the same time, the realistic and understated construction of I Am Greta brings one more element to the forefront: her relationship with her parents. Thunberg grew to become such a powerful and dynamic figure in recent years that it’s easy to forget she’s still a minor. Her father is a recurring figure on-screen (mom stays a little deeper in the background). He is always present, helping his daughter write her speeches, keeping her centered and focused, and above all seeing that she doesn’t lose herself in the chaos around them.
I Am Greta isn’t a climate change documentary. It is a political and cultural snapshot of our world. We have placed our teenagers in a place where they have to be activists. Our youngsters are standing up to tell us about climate change and gun control. Yet as the film spotlights, there are politicians the world over who not only willfully ignore facts and denigrate scientists, but they mock a young woman fighting for what she believes in. Let that sink in for just a moment.
I Am Greta is an important feature to watch. In this documentary, children get to see a young woman standing up and making a true difference, but we adults need to see this as well. Decades of political apathy among not only government but the populace has resulted in monumental inaction. Yet, only the world’s youth seems to realize this. The whole world is watching, now what are we going to do about it?
I Am Greta debuts on Hulu beginning November 13th.