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

A pinniped was attacked by an unseen predator off the shores of Dallas Road Monday night. (Courtesy of Steffani Cameron)
VIDEO: Seal hunting a fish off Dallas Road sparks social media debate

Victoria woman captures footage of pinniped activity off Dallas Road

West Shore RCMP are looking for a suspect and their mini van, which crashed into a parked vehicle and home along the 200-block of Island Highway in View Royal on Jan. 18. (Black Press Media file photo)
Driver crashes into parked car and home in View Royal, speeds away: RCMP

Incident took place near 200-block of Island Highway Monday night

In January, six flights with cases of COVID-19 onboard have landed at the Victoria International Airport so far. (Black Press Media file photo)
Two new COVID-19 exposures reported on flights to Victoria

A Jan. 10 flight from Toronto and Jan. 11 flight from Calgary were affected

Firefighters respond to a fire on Heatherly Road in Colwood Jan. 19. (Photo courtesy of View Royal Fire Rescue)
Two people escape injury in Colwood house fire

Heatherly Road fire started on a covered porch

December and January, so far, have seen their share of rain. (Black Press Media file photo)
Potential for snow in Greater Victoria after unusually wet December, January

Winter is on the way, says Environment and Climate Change Canada

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry prepares a daily update on the coronavirus pandemic, April 21, 2020. (B.C. Government)
B.C. adjusts COVID-19 vaccine rollout for delivery slowdown

Daily cases decline over weekend, 31 more deaths

(Black Press Media file photo)
From arts to environment, nominate your West Shore hero

Nominations for the Goldstream Gazette’s Local Hero awards are open

Nanaimo RCMP are investigating after a threat was made at Woodgrove Centre on Tuesday, Jan. 19. (News Bulletin file photo)
Threat directed at Nanaimo mall, RCMP investigating

Police have searched areas of Woodgrove Centre accessible to shoppers and have deemed it safe

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic from Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic from Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau vows to keep up the fight to sway U.S. on merits of Keystone XL pipeline

Canada’s pitch to the Biden team has framed Keystone XL as a more environmentally friendly project than original

The British Columbia Hotel Association (BCHA) sent out a sharply worded release late last week, in which it noted that the Tourism Industry Association of BC recently obtained a ‘legal opinion’ on the matter (Alex Passini photo)
Hotel associations push back against any potential ban on inter-provincial, non-essential travel restrictions

B.C. Premier John Horgan is seeking legal advice on banning non-essential travel

JaHyung Lee, “Canada’s oldest senior” at 110 years old, received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. He lives at Amenida Seniors Community in Newton. (Submitted photo: Amenida Seniors Community)
COVID rapid tests in long-term care key during vaccine rollout: B.C. care providers

‘Getting kits into the hands of care providers should be a top priority,’ says former Health Minister

Island Health chief medical officer Dr. Richard Stanwick receives a first dose of Pfizer vaccine, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. turns to second doses of COVID-19 vaccine as supplies slow

Pfizer shipments down until February, to be made up in March

B.C.’s Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Training announced funding to train community mental health workers at four B.C. post-secondary institutions. (Stock photo)
B.C. funding training of mental health workers at four post-secondary institutions

Provincial government says pandemic has intensified need for mental health supports

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
No Pfizer vaccines arriving in Canada next week; feds still expect 4M doses by end of March

More cases of U.K. variant, South African variant found in Canada

Most Read