Nathan Grossman • Director of I Am Greta
“The great thing is that you can’t stage these reactions – you just have to press ‘REC’ on the camera”
by Jan Lumholdt
- VENICE 2020: We sat down with Nathan Grossman to chat about I Am Greta, world-premiering out of competition, and its global phenomenon of a protagonist
World-premiering out of competition at the Venice International Film Festival, Nathan Grossman’s I Am Greta [+see also:
interview: Nathan Grossman
film profile] portrays a remarkable year in the life of Greta Thunberg, as she goes from solo climate striker to global phenomenon.
Cineuropa: Let’s start from the beginning – how did Greta’s journey and the journey of your film come to start at practically the same moment?
Nathan Grossman: A filmmaker friend of mine, Peter Modestij, had heard from Malena Ernman, Greta’s mother, that her daughter would do a climate protest outside the Swedish parliament, which he might find interesting. Peter is not really a documentary filmmaker, so he told me, and I decided to give it one or two days to see if I could work it into a possible short on climate activism. On the first day, I couldn’t really find her at first, but then I saw someone sitting there with a sign. Nothing more, nothing less.
When did you feel something bigger in the air?
It took off fairly quickly outside the parliament building: people stopped and asked her about different things, and I noticed how articulate she was in her responses. “She’s got something,” I started to think. The true moment came around November, when there were similar movements in countries like Australia and Belgium. Before that, it was a little hobbyish and local, but by late autumn, I felt the momentum. By that time, I was working full time, first with no money, but later we got the backing together.
The film’s time span goes from August 2018 to September 2019. This means there is no COVID-19 pandemic present at all. Did you discuss this particular circumstance and how to deal with it, or not at all?
Of course. We certainly didn’t know at the time what was just around the corner… We thought about changing the ending, and maybe ripping it up and seeing if we could work it into the context. But then, we also felt like, you know, there will be a day after corona. And I’m sure the climate crisis won’t just go away; it will be there, waiting, and I wanted to make a film about this particular space and time that we show you in the film.
How did your relationship with Greta develop during that year?
As soon as I had an idea of how to frame the story, I shared my thoughts with her and took in all her views. As we started to travel, our dialogue deepened, and we forged a stronger working relationship. As a documentary filmmaker, you always have to deal with ethical questions on what to film and what not to film. I was very open to her from the beginning. I never added any situation; I just followed her and took it from there. I always brought the camera in order to capture some unexpected moment, like when she does a dance. I just turned on the camera, and there it was. A very lucky moment.
You also show some encounters between Greta and various prominent leaders, like Macron, Merkel and the Pope. Did they allow you to be present, given all of the rules and stipulations generally surrounding them?
I never knew beforehand. Most of the time, you have no idea if they will let you shoot. I could travel for 35 hours in an electric car, hoping to capture a meeting, and then… “Stop. No filming!” That was probably the hardest thing in the whole process. I think the yes/no ratio was 50/50, in the end. We got Macron but no Obama. We got the Pope but only from one angle, and then they moved to a place where I wasn’t allowed to film. But I like what we got in the end.
It’s great to look at her in the capacity of a catalyst in these situations. Putting her in a room with assorted mighty leaders gets some very interesting reactions.
And the great thing is that you can’t stage these reactions – you just have to press “REC” on the camera. All the time and energy you put into a work like this – here it just pays off. She’s also very funny, and charming, because of these catalyst-like abilities.
Are you friends now?
Today, I would consider her a friend, yes.
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