Greta Thunberg’s meteoric rise from striking schoolgirl to the most famous activist in the world is the subject of fly-on-the-wall documentary I Am Greta which premiered at this year’s Venice Film Festival.
Some of the most interesting documentaries are born out of being in the right place at the right time. In Katy Perry: Part Of Me, the crew were filming her world tour when they captured the moment she learns of her marriage with Russell Brand ending. Hitman Hart: Wrestling With Shadows evolved from a documentary about Bret Hart into an expose on one of the most infamous moments in wrestling history, The Montreal Screwjob.
Director Nathan Grossman had no idea what he was in for when a friend told him about a schoolgirl planning a strike outside the Swedish parliament in protest at climate change. What started as a couple of weeks shoot in the lead up to the elections became a 13 month odyssey. Greta would become the face of a movement, inspiring millions across the world. Their journey together would culminate with her trip across the Atlantic in a sailboat to attend the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit.
Grossman is there every step of the way. He has an all-access pass to capture the moments where Greta goes from meeting press to meeting presidents. From talking to dozens of people to thousands. He is witness to the birth of a global icon.
It is therefore disappointing that for all the access and all the hours of behind the scenes footage, the finished documentary plays out like a greatest hits package of Thunberg’s most important and famous media appearances.
The more interesting film is the one that we don’t get. The documentary where we learn what makes Greta Thunberg tick. It only briefly covers how she got interested and passionate about the issue of climate change. Her family life is not really explored (possibly their choice). Her father is the most prominent figure and essentially becomes her tour manager and again, more could have been made of this dynamic.
The most fascinating moments are the ones where she is not performing to an audience. When it is simply her and the camera watching her. Whether it be her enjoying quiet time with her dogs or laughing at the online comments of enraged conservative men. Sadly these brief interludes are too few and far between.
Those are the times to remember the fact that the majority of the public, particulary those online, often forget. That she is simply a 16 year old girl trying to make a difference. Albeit one that unexpectedly became the face of a generation’s worries about climate change.
Unlike the girl herself, this documentary is not going to change people’s perceptions. For a film called I Am Greta, one ultimately comes away without any greater sense of who the real Greta actually is.
Director: Nathan Grossman
Stars: Greta Thunberg
Runtime: 97 minutes