Greta Thunberg took a break from school lessons to talk by Zoom to representatives of the world press September 4 at the Venice Film Festival. In person at the event were the film’s director Nathan Grossman and producer Cecilia Nessen.
The film covers the extraordinary period between August 2018, when Greta started a one-person school strike outside the Stockholm parliament, to her arrival by boat across the Atlantic to lambast world leaders at the UN Climate Conference in New York in December 2019.
As well as chronicling her meteoric rise to global prominence, the film presents a personal and intimate portrait of a teenager with Asperger’s dealing with levels of pressure that very few kids have ever had to face.
Thunberg was asked how she initially felt, back in 2018, about Grossman making a film about her.
“In the beginning it wasn’t meant to be a movie – we didn’t know,” she responded. “He said can I join you and I said ‘yes sure’. He was just in the background, making no sound or noise or whatever, so he didn’t disturb me. I just let him film me, and then when the movement really started to take off it suddenly became something much bigger that no one could ever have predicted. So at the beginning, it wasn’t like ‘do you want to make somebody to make a movie about you?’ Quite the opposite.”
She underlined one of the film’s core motifs, that of the abrogation of responsibility by those in power. “It really shows that this is too much responsibility for children. We should not be the ones having to do this. It should be up to adults and people in power and the people who have caused this problem in the first place. It should not be up to children to communicate this crisis, because that is the media’s job. That is the job of the people in power.”
She further felt that the film adequately addressed criticisms (sometimes savagely) made against her and the ethical stance she has taken. “It really shows that some people spread conspiracy theories. They say that I don’t think for myself. Or I don’t speak for myself or somebody else writes my speeches. In the movie you can see that is not actually true, and that I do of course speak for myself, and decide everything for myself. That is a consequence that you can see for yourself.”
Thunberg was also asked what policy changes she has noticed among the politicians and heads of state who have lined up to be photographed with her over the past two years.
“There is still no sense of awareness whatsoever, basically. We are still not treating the climate crisis like a crisis,” she responded.
She said that the film performed a function. “If I can be some kind of bridge so that people can identify more with the climate crisis and understand it more, then I guess that it’s a good thing. It [the climate campaign] shouldn’t be too much focussed on me as an individual, which it has been so far of course, [instead it should be] focussed on the climate and the global debate.”
Did she recognise the portrait that director Grossman painted of her? “I was actually, I think, a bit worried because he had so much [material]. He had been following me for so long and he could choose to maybe tell the story in a way that wouldn’t reflect me, maybe. [Addressing Grossman] But I think you did succeed in framing me as myself and not the person that the media frames me to be, not the angry naïve child who sits in the United Nations General Assembly screaming at world leaders, because that is not the person that I am. I think he definitely made me seem like a more shy and nerdy person, which is the person that I am.”
Grossman in turn articulated his admiration for his subject. “You are very intellectual which I think I always liked about you, and which I think is shown in the movie, but what I am also a little bit jealous about with Greta, especially now when I have to do lots of interviews, is how concise and how good you are in concretising [sic] this very complex issue of climate change and making it understandable for people, which I am very impressed with, and [have] been from the beginning.”
He added: “I wanted also people to get to learn more about Greta as I know her, which is not as a global icon… She is doing this out of sheer passion for the subject. And I think in this film you really get to understand that, much more than you maybe do in the regular news media where everything [about her] is so compressed.”
Thunberg’s fame and influence grew rapidly over the course of the shoot but the size of the film crew remained limited to just one operative, Grossman himself. In a humorous but straight-faced exchange the pair discussed the set-up.
“It was you handling everything. You had the camera and you didn’t have a sound guy. It was not very professional, it was very spontaneous,” said Thunberg. Grossman asked if she was ever worried that his “lack of professionalism” would result in a bad movie.
“Sometimes I actually doubted, since you said this [the evolving story] might be something big, and I said then why don’t they send a sound guy or anything?… So I think on some level I doubted the seriousness of the project,” she responded.