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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

I Am Greta

This rousing documentary chronicles Greta Thunberg's ascension from Swedish schoolgirl to one of the world's best-known environmental activists.
By Sarah Ward
October 20, 2020
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I Am Greta

This rousing documentary chronicles Greta Thunberg's ascension from Swedish schoolgirl to one of the world's best-known environmental activists.
By Sarah Ward
October 20, 2020
  shares

If a single image can sum up the current crucial battle against climate change, it's a picture — any picture — of Greta Thunberg. Since deciding to skip school to protest outside Sweden's parliament back in August 2018, the braid-wearing teen has become the face of a movement. She isn't the first person to sound an alarm about the dire state of the planet, to vehemently speak truth to power or to gain widespread attention, but her determined, no-nonsense approach really isn't easily forgotten. Sometimes, it's directed at ordinary Stockholm residents going about their days while she strikes. As she has garnered increasing attention, Thunberg has trained her stare on crowded United Nations' conferences, too, and at attendees with the capacity but not necessarily the inclination to make a difference. She has also met face to face with world leaders, but she knows that politicians usually only share her gaze for a photo opportunity.

Demonstrating patiently, speaking passionately, shaking hands for the cameras: all of these moments are captured by documentary I Am Greta, which surveys Thunberg's ascension from everyday Swedish 15-year-old to one of the best-known figures fighting to save the earth. The film acts as a chronicle, starting with her activism on her home soil, following her efforts as she's thrust to fame, and culminating in her trip across the Atlantic Ocean via yacht to present at 2019's UN Climate Action Summit, where she gave her iconic "how dare you" speech. But as the title indicates, this doco is just as concerned with Thunberg's home life as her public impact.

Accordingly, while filmmaker Nathan Grossman has an array of recognisable footage at his disposal in this slickly packaged affair — packed protests, widely seen speeches, British parliament addresses, meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron — he interweaves it with quieter, intimate and unguarded moments. Including material preceding her present status as a household name, I Am Greta watches Thunberg prepare for big events, spend time with her beloved dogs and horses, eat meals with her family, and get escorted around the world by bus, train and boat by her father Svante. These snippets help paint a picture of the teenager behind the activism, and much of it is highly relatable. She adores her pets, finding their presence soothing. She obsesses over every detail of every speech, even when her dad is reminding her to rest and eat. She happily calls herself a nerd, explains the helpful side of her Asperger syndrome diagnosis ("it might be good if everyone had a tiny bit of Asperger's, at least about the climate," she shares), talks through details of past episodes of selective mutism and notes that being bullied isn't a new part of her life.

Viewers looking for something more revealing in Thunberg's daily existence will be disappointed, as will anyone eager to discover details that haven't been covered in many a profile, or keen for in-depth facts and figures. But by purposefully and repeatedly stressing that its subject is simply a young woman who feels passionate about doing everything she can to raise awareness about climate change, and to motivate the world's powers-that-be to act before it's too late, I Am Greta makes an immensely potent statement. It's one that Thunberg has vocalised on many occasions with words as direct as her glare, and it resonates just as strongly here. It shouldn't take a teen skipping school and inspiring millions more around the world to follow in her footsteps to get people talking, thinking and enacting solutions to counteract the earth's warming. Thunberg shouldn't need to be a leader in this space. At the beginning of the film, during her time spent sitting outside Swedish parliament, she acknowledges that she likely knows far more about climate change than the overwhelming bulk of Sweden's politicians — and that firmly shouldn't be the case.

Also cutting through astutely is Thunberg's continued recognition of how, as her fame increases, the global response by naysayers encapsulates so much about the status quo and the lack of government action. She calls out politicians who chat and get snapped in pictures but do nothing to follow through, with Grossman letting viewers see the pageantry alongside Thunberg's perceptive observations. She reads trolling comments, too — and I Am Greta says plenty when it shows figures such as Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison either attacking Thunberg, childishly insulting her, discounting her message or saying that the planet's younger generations should stick to studying instead of fighting for their futures.

It isn't ever explicitly said, but I Am Greta also makes another pivotal point, and it applies not only to its central figure but to the rousing film itself. In addition to emphasising that the steadfast eco-warrior is a teen tackling a topic that so many of her elders have happily ignored for decades, this documentary understands that its audience already knows how they feel about Thunberg. It also recognises that its viewers are just as aware of which side they fall on when it comes to combating climate change. As a result, this movie isn't going to convert skeptics and Thunberg's critics, or alter her fans' thinking, and it isn't trying to. It'd rather show the work to effect change in action, and let that speak volumes. Indeed, what echoes here is that simply doing the right thing — doing something, in fact — is essential regardless of any obstacles and opposition, whether urged by Al Gore, David Attenborough, Aussie doco 2040, your best mate, your neighbour, a stranger or Thunberg.

I Am Greta is currently screening in Wellington cinemas, and will be available to stream via DocPlay from Saturday, November 14.

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