I tried hard to make the film from Greta’s point of view: Director Nathan Grossman

Image: Greta Thunberg. Image credit: TIFF

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Toronto/CMED: Tom Powers, documentary programmer for Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) 2020 discusses with Nathan Grossman, director of TIFF 2020 film, ‘I Am Greta’, about Greta Thunberg’s climate change activism.

Asha Bajaj of Canadian Media brings you the excerpts of Part2  of the conversation between Nathan and Tom:

Tom to Nathan: Can you describe the sailing boat journey, which looked harrowing just to be a passenger, let alone trying to film it.  Can you talk about how that was captured?

It was captured by me. During the entire film, I have had the camera on my shoulder and had taken 95% of the audio myself.  When the boat ride came up, not having much of the sailing experience, I was a bit afraid. I would have maybe considered going on a regular sailboat over the Atlantic. But on this kind of race boat, by which Greta and her father were traveling, made me nervous. But I could not come to terms with the idea of another photographer to be hired, I decided to go to the trip to shoot this myself. The boat ride was very bumpy, it was hard for me to hold the camera stable. But when the days were less rough, it was more boring as you just sit and wait so that the parts of the boat to be filmed for the movie are most calm. When that happens, the boat stinks, but it was a very special two weeks experience on that ocean.

To Nathan: What challenges did you face by Greta’s values like not flying on a plane for instance or her taking on positions that many people in a consumer society find challenging?

I have two small anecdotes on that. During one of the earliest trips that I did with Greta and her family traveling on a train, I bought lunch salad in plastic jars at Copenhagen and put it on the table. Greta took a picture of the salad and posted it on her Instagram account, which showed plastic jars on the table. Since then Greta has been attacked by the media and in the film by right-wing media questioning her why she was eating from plastic? From that time, I became more aware of not buying plastic stuff. The second anecdote was that for shooting this film I had to travel on electric cars and trains with Greta and her family all the time which was more time-consuming. But I tried hard to make the film from her point of view.


Greta on a boat in the Atlantic Ocean

To Nathan: How did you benefit from your relatively early move to film Greta compared to other people looking for the same access?

I think this movie would never have had the same kind of tone if we did not get to know each other so early on. I had plenty of time with all these frenzy starts till it became more of the team going into the frenzy than an external part trying to portray it. So that was one advantage I had over other filmmakers. I also I decided very early on that I was not going to keep anyone away. For that, I took a step back. We benefited from lots of scenes in the film to cover Greta, where she talks to the media. I could use other media comments and surf a little bit on that, which was beneficial for both me and Greta as Greta did not have to repeat answers to me.


Nathan Grossman in Conversation with Tom Powers. Screenshot

To Nathan: You actually took away a lot of pressure from a young person having to answer those questions on a constant basis and in a backdrop like the UN summit. The film gives us a really privileged view of those pressures. Can you elaborate on that based on your experiences with Greta and her family, that the outside world cannot see what it is like to live when you have that much attention on you?

One thing was to create a timeline for stopping filming. I could follow this because I was very ethical in producing earlier documentaries, which are a hard genre in that sense. So, lots of discussions we had after maybe eight o’clock, are not part of the film. Both Greta and I were very strict with that. Greta wanted to keep some hours exclusively for herself before she goes to bed, during which she neither did any interviews nor looked at her phone. I think that is a really smart thing that we should actually learn from her. 

(Reporting by Asha Bajaj)