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October 26, 2020

Denver Film Festival - I am Greta


Nathan Grossman - 2020
Hulu Originals

Following her speech at a United Nations environmental conference in Poland, Greta Thunberg takes a walk with her father. She has been invited as a youth representative following international television coverage of her Friday protests in front of Sweden's Parliament building. As far as Greta is concerned, she goes back to a normal life on Monday following her visit to Poland. As it tuns out, life has other plans. Setting aside the issues regarding climate change and any kind of agenda, I am Greta is also about the weight of celebrity.

I admit to this being an idiosyncratic reaction to Nathan Grossman's documentary and probably one that he never intended. I do not know if Grossman has even seen the documentary short Lonely Boy. That film was about Paul Anka, a popular singer of sixty years ago, post-Elvis, pre-Beatles. The documentary was produced in 1962 in a style then known as cinema verite, with handheld 16mm cameras observing, but not directing the action. The connection between Paul Anka and Greta Thunberg is not all that great in noting that both became internationally famous at the age of fifteen. Both films are about they each handle being in the spotlight. The big difference is that at the time of Lonely Boy, Anka was 20 years old and entrusted much of his future to experienced show business elders. I am Greta follows Ms. Thunberg from her early "strikes" in Sweden that were beginning to attract attention within the country, with her navigating her new found fame mostly on her own, and with certain amount of media savvy to look at celebrity with a suspicious eye.

Greta's father provides a mobile support system, traveling with Greta, acting as an emotional rock when needed, and sometimes acting as the strict parent at other times. At the very least, the film disproves the notion of Ms. Thunberg as the eternal scold, angry at the world for not taking climate change seriously. She does have in infectious laugh, not taking herself seriously, whether it's looking at a photo of herself and the Pope, reading negative Twitter messages, or making a lopsided cake with her mother.

The documentary itself grew out of serendipitous circumstances. Through a friend, Nathan Grossman was made aware of the Swedish school girl who was on a one person crusade. What was originally imagined to be a short, grew as the world took notice and Ms. Thunberg was traveling throughout Europe, with the film ending about a year later with her speech at the United Nations in 2019. What starts out being somewhat fun becomes less so as the schedule becomes more demanding. Added is the realization that no concrete action is taken by any governments, or what progress exists is in small increments. Ultimately, Greta Thunberg would rather be at home with her family than being someone else's photo op.

While I am Greta has currently been on the film festival circuit, it will be publicly available via Hulu in the U.S. in mid-November.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at October 26, 2020 06:34 AM