I Am Greta

 

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A close-up view of an individual who deserves her status as an icon.

 
I Am Greta
   

When reviewing David Guggenheim's film about Malala Yousafzai (2015's He Named Me Malala), I suggested that any imperfections present in the film counted for little because of the huge appeal of the wonderful girl at its centre. Now we have Nathan Grossman's documentary about another remarkable teenage girl, Greta Thunberg, just 15 years of age when she first made the stand on climate change which would lead to her becoming famous. The point that I made about He Named Me Malala applies here too even if in this case the film's drawbacks are rather more apparent. I Am Greta follows this now iconic figure from August 2018 to her appearance a year later at the Climate Action Summit held in New York and for many that will be a full recommendation in itself.

 

What we get is a truly close-up view of Greta who took to the streets of Stockholm urging a school strike as a protest against government failure to tackle climate change adequately and then quickly found herself called upon to speak at conferences abroad. Grossman's film takes this remarkable journey with her and, while we find her accompanied by her father who accordingly features alongside her, her mother is only glimpsed and her sister rates only a passing mention in which she is not fully identified. Consequently, Greta in person dominates the film and, indeed, despite the fact that she has to cope with Asperger syndrome, Greta herself emerges as the one in command. If her intellect is striking, so too is her determination (she dismisses her medical condition by saying "I have it - I don't suffer from it"). Her detailed dedication to what she regards as the prime issue facing the world is quite exceptional.

 

All of this makes Greta Thunberg a truly worthy subject for the camera, but whether a full-length film is the most apt medium is questionable. By not really bringing her family into the picture and by excluding interviews to establish how others see her, her journeys to give speeches in Poland, Belgium, France, England and ultimately in America take up most of the footage. At one point she herself declares that she is reduced to saying the same thing over and over. Nevertheless, we do witness one development: relatively early on she comes to regard politics as a role-playing game because so many politicians listen to her and then do so little, but it is only in her New York address that we see her anger over this publicly expressed.

 

It does indeed become evident that by accepting the responsibility of being the messenger in this way, Greta's life has been transformed. When on her way to America by boat (she keeps to her environmental principles by refusing to fly there) she does momentarily break down to the extent that she confesses that it has all become too much for her. The strain on her (she has even had death threats) make this understandable, but the film is more revealing about her character than it is about the cost of her actions to her personal life and that of her family. Without the extra investigative depth, the material would in all probability have functioned better as an hour-long programme for television. But no matter. Greta's many admirers will welcome this film in which she describes humans as being pack animals, each with a different role to play. It is apparent from I Am Greta that this teenager, who speaks for all of us but especially for her own generation, is the leader of the pack.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Greta Thunberg, Svante Thunberg, Malena Thunberg, Antonio Guterres, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jean-Claude Juncker, Emmanuel Macron, Boris Herrmann, John Bercow.

 

Dir Nathan Grossman, Pro Fredrik Heinig and Cecilia Nessen, based on an idea by Peter Modestij, Ph Nathan Grossman, Ed Charlotte Landeluis and Hanna Lejonqvist, Music Rebekka Karijord and Jon Ekstrand.

 

Hulu/B-Reel Films/WDR/SVT/BBC Storyville-Dogwoof.
101 mins. Sweden/USA/Germany/UK. 2020. Rel: 16 October 2020. Available in cinemas. Cert. 12A.