THE STORY (SO far) of Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg is biblical in its hugeness and in the power that the voice of a youngster can have on how the world turns. On paper, Nathan Grossman’s I am Greta could be the biggest jewel in the crown of this the 7th European Film Festival in South Africa. Due to the ongoing pandemic, the entire festival is available online and access to this advocacy film from 12-22 November will cost you R50 a ticket, the proceeds of which will go to environmental awareness.
But when you watch this piece, structured chronologically as it is and replete with all the bits and pieces of intimacies such as baby pics of Thunberg and conversations about eating between Thunberg and her father, you turn away, cringing and, frankly, bored. The value of Greta is not about her childhood or her relationship with her parents. It’s about her message. This comes through in the final moments of the work with the fierceness and fury of the teenager’s address to the US Congress in September of 2019.
In so many ways, this bit of fire is the heart of the work. The other material, much of it caught in intrusive cell phone footage, which is often plied right up to the cheek of the plaited teen, needed a stronger editorial hand and a deeper respect for the power of narrative that you might have seen in Diana Neille and Richard Poplak’s Influence, but this doesn’t happen here. I Am Greta begins with her school strike in the name of climate and takes a slavish and cliched chronological view of the child.
On so many levels, this could do more to damage her cause – and the voice of the next generation – because it lends an interpretation of Thunberg to profoundly cynical mockery, which borders on denialism of the environmental crisis. When she’s 42, will she look back on these earnest moments with pride? Will she be a heavy smoker, finished with the legacy of her feisty youth? These things are grotesquely irreverent, but the allowing of the public unwarranted access into the privacy of Greta’s life, rendering her a kind of a celluloid superstar as a 16 year old, begs these inane questions.
I am Greta is one of the casualties of the kind of documentary work that this cell phone-wise generation is capable of. Films of the ilk of Ben Asamoah’s film about corruption in Ghana Sakawa and Teboho Edkins’s essay on the Chinese immigrants in Lesotho, Days of Cannibalism take this medium to brilliant and sophisticated levels, but Grossman’s exposé of Greta Thunberg is not only forcing the robustness of a commercial film into her argument, but it also feels that it flows against the value systems of this teenager. You would, however, be correct in buying a ticket because of its contribution to the cause.
I am Greta is directed by Nathan Grossman. Written by Olof Berglind based on an idea by Peter Modestij, it is produced by Fredrik Heinig and Cecilia Nessen and features creative input by Jon Ekstrand and Rebekka Karijord (music), Nathan Grossman (cinematography) and Charlotte Landelius, Hanna Lejonqvist and Magnus Svensson (editing). In Swedish with English subtitles, it is part of the 7th European Film Festival South Africa, screening online from 12-22 November 2020. Access to this production is ticketed at R50, the proceeds of which will go to the cause.