This image released by Hulu shows activist Greta Thunberg in a scene from the documentary “I Am Greta.” The film premieres Friday on Hulu. (Hulu via AP)

This image released by Hulu shows activist Greta Thunberg in a scene from the documentary “I Am Greta.” The film premieres Friday on Hulu. (Hulu via AP)

Greta Thunberg on 2 very surreal years of protest and fame

‘I Am Greta,’ which debuts Friday on Hulu, is the first documentary to chart the meteoric rise of Thunberg

In the first days of Greta Thunberg’s solitary sidewalk protest outside Swedish Parliament in August 2018, most walk right past her. Some pause and ask why she’s not in school. But people steadily begin to take notice of the steadfast 16-year-old girl.

Those humble beginnings of Thunberg’s protest — the unlikely birth of a global movement — are seen in the opening minutes of the new documentary “I Am Greta.” Since then, Thunberg has met world leaders, been vilified by others, and seen countless join her in an ever-growing resistance to environmental complacency. It’s a journey she readily describes as totally surreal — “It’s like living in a movie and you don’t know the plot,” she says — but also affirming.

“I look back and I remember how it felt. I think: Oh, I was so young and naive back then — which is quite funny,” says Thunberg, recalling her first days of protest in an interview. “So much has changed for me since then but also so much hasn’t changed from the bigger perspective.”

“I feel like now I’m happier in my life,” she adds. “When you do something that’s meaningful, it gives you the feeling that you’re meaningful.”

“I Am Greta,” which debuts Friday on Hulu, is the first documentary to chart the meteoric rise of Thunberg from an anonymous, uncertain teen to an international activist. As an intimate chronicle of a singular figure, it plays like a coming-of-age story for someone who seemed, from the start, uncannily of age. The film, directed by Nathan Grossman, captures the head-spinning accomplishments, and the toll they sometimes take, on the bluntly impassioned Thunberg.

For an activist who insists on putting the cause before herself, it’s also a somewhat uncomfortable acceptance of the spotlight. “I haven’t really achieved anything,” Thunberg says, speaking by phone from Sweden. “Everything the movement has achieved.”

She doesn’t endorse everything about the documentary. It should come as no surprise that Thunberg, who has called her Asperger’s syndrome her “superpower” — a condition she believes only enhances her ability to be straightforward and focused — has a few notes.

“I don’t really like the title of the film, ‘I Am Greta.’ It makes it seem like I take myself very seriously,” says Thunberg. (In Sweden, the film is simply called “Greta,” but that title was recently taken by the 2018 Isabelle Huppert film.) “Also the poster. I look like I have make-up on. I don’t like the poster and the title.”

Grossman began filming Thunberg soon after she began protesting in August 2018, but he didn’t expect much from it. He told Thunberg he might not stick around for more than a few hours. He shot in half-resolution to save memory cards.

But as time went on, and young people around the world began following Thunberg’s lead, Grossman realized he had unwittingly captured the first moments of an unfolding zeitgeist. The project evolved and Grossman continued to shadow Thunberg up to her scorching speech at the United Nations in which she admonished world leaders: “We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you.”

“She felt that a movie about her could help clarify things,” says Grossman. “In the media, I think, she hasn’t felt that she recognized herself. The one-dimensional character of Greta is a very angry, frustrated girl. In the movie, you see so much more — that she’s also funny and has different sides.”

Part of the power of Thunberg is that, as a 17-year-old, she literally embodies a future imperiled by the inaction of older generations. “I Am Greta” is in a way a profile of generational divide, where adults and politicians line up to take selfies with a young woman who despite her stature sometimes struggles to get out of bed for an appointment or cries for home while sailing across the Atlantic.

But if Thunberg, Time magazine’s Person of the Year in 2019, is recognizably human in “I Am Greta,” she’s also ruthlessly frank. She doesn’t mince words on Earth’s trajectory. She dismisses superficial gestures for change. And she shrugs off those who dismiss or mock her message. Asked how she felt watching news clips of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin deriding her in the film, Thunberg laughs.

“That’s one of the highlights! It’s hysterically funny,” Thunberg says. “It just proves that you’re doing something right. If you’re being attacked by these kinds of people that shows you’re doing something right. It just shows how desperate they are not to talk about the climate.”

During the pandemic, Thunberg has seen climate slip from front pages. But she wishes the climate could generate the same level of alarm that COVID-19 has. “It feels like we’re stuck no matter what we do,” she says. “We won’t achieve real change unless we actually start to treat the climate crisis like a crisis.”

In September, Thunberg was again outside Swedish Parliament for a socially distanced climate protest, part of thousands of school strikes held that day. But watching the U.S. presidential debates, where climate was a little-discussed issue and summarily dismissed by Trump, she says, has been eye-opening.

“It surprises me. I knew the situation in the U.S. was bad when it comes to climate, that it’s being treated as an opinion rather than actual scientific fact, but I didn’t know it was this bad,” says Thunberg. “Europe and Sweden, we are very, very far from where we need to be in the discussion. But compared to the U.S., it’s just surprising.”

Earlier this fall, Thunberg returned to school after taking a year off.

“I’ve missed it a lot. It just feels very good to be back in school and to do normal things, to have routines. I love routines — that’s probably a lot because of my autism,” she says. “And in this environment, I’m almost anonymous in a way. People know who I am, of course, but I’m not there because I’m famous. I’m there to do something else, I’m just like the rest.”

Anonymity might no longer be a long-term option for Thunberg, who will turn 18 in January. But it’s a tradeoff she will make. When she reflects on the last two years, she sounds dangerously close to being something few would label Thunberg: an optimist.

“Before I started doing this, my experience was that no one cared. Now I’ve been proven wrong. Obviously, many people, especially young people, care about the climate crisis and the future, and that’s encouraging,” says Thunberg. “Humanity has not yet failed. We are failing, but humanity has not failed.”

Jake Coyle, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Climate change

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The City of Victoria filed a petition with the Supreme Court of B.C. March 2 to have it clarify whether, under the Trustee Act, Beacon Hill Park can be used for temporary sheltering. (Black Press Media file photo)
Victoria asks court to clarify if Beacon Hill Park can be used for sheltering

City of Victoria filed petition to Supreme Court of B.C. March 2

The application proposing to rezone Western Speedway was passed by Langford’s planning, zoning and affordable housing committee Feb 8. A petition has since been started by residents of Trudie Terrace, hoping to stop the proposed residential portion of the development plan. (CBRE Victoria)
Petition opposing Western Speedway development proposal gains steam

Save Thetis Heights Neighborhood petition aims to stop extension of Trudie Terrace

Activists from the Fairy Creek Blockades hold the injunction application notice which was submitted by logging company Teal Jones to the B.C. Supreme Court. The application, which asks to have blockaders removed from the sites that stop access to cut blocks, is set to be heard on March 4. (Photo contributed/Joshua Wright)
Activists hunker down to protect Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew from logging

Forest company Teal Cedar applies for injunction to remove seven-month-old blockades

Boma Brown won the Emerging Leader Award for her work founding the Support Network for Indigenous Women and Women of Colour. (Courtesy of Boma Brown)
Victoria SNIWWOC founder up for national women’s award for volunteer efforts

Victoria’s Boma Brown is a semi-finalist in the running for the L’Oreal Paris Women of Worth award

Older rental apartments are prime candidates for renovations, and could result in lost affordable housing stock. (Zoë Ducklow photo)
B.C.’s renoviction overhaul a good start, but won’t preserve affordable stock, lawyer says

And still no protection for people who can’t pay rent due to COVID-19

(Photo by Marissa Baecker/Shoot the Breeze)
B.C. WHL teams to hit the ice with Kelowna, Kamloops hub cities

Kelowna, Kamloops centres chosen to host B.C. WHL teams for 24-game regular season

The victim of the homicide on Cowichan Lake Road early Monday morning was 17 years old, and was stabbed in the incident. (File photo)
Duncan homicide victim was 17 years old

RCMP report that teenager was stabbed

(Black Press file photo)
Agassiz boy, 11, dies from ‘extensive injuries’: Homicide team

Agassiz RCMP were called out Friday to assist with a child in medical distress

(File photo)
RCMP arrest man after report of gun-toting threat-maker near Parksville schools

43-year-old man taken into custody; students at nearby schools were asked to stay inside

The machines are akin to ATMs and allow drug users at risk of overdose to get hydromorphone pills dispensed to them after their palm has been scanned to identify its unique vein pattern. (CANADIAN PRESS)
Feds dole out $3.5M for ‘vending machines’ to dispense safer opioids in B.C.

The machines are located in four cities across Canada, including Vancouver and Victoria

Kelowna’s lakefront visitor centre is one of 130 around the province. Tourism businesses have been hardest hit by COVID-19 restrictions on travel. (Destination B.C.)
Tourism, small business getting COVID-19 help, B.C. minister says

$300M grant program has delivered $50 million so far

Most Read