“I Am Greta” director Nathan Grossman will be taking two new projects in development to the Copenhagen Intl. Documentary Film Festival (CPH:DOX), one of which he’s revealed exclusively to Variety.
The documentary feature, with the working title “Amazonia,” follows a series of expeditions into the Amazon led by Sydney Possuelo, considered the leading authority on Brazil’s remaining isolated indigenous peoples. Grossman has been granted exclusive access to more than 100 hours of footage, which spans over a decade from the mid-‘90s and includes the first encounter with an uncontacted indigenous group.
“It’s a forgotten archive,” says the director. “We’re talking exclusive access to one of the biggest unseen archives from the Amazon region, following years of expeditions in the jungle to find indigenous tribes.”
The film – utilizing never-before-seen footage – touches on themes that have preoccupied the director across his growing body of work. “The archive material carries many layers of climate and environment beneath the surface,” he says.
This week in Copenhagen, Grossman and “I Am Greta” producer Cecilia Nessen (“Bergman – A Year in a Life”) will also be presenting the documentary “Climate in Therapy” during CPH:FORUM, the festival’s international financing and co-production event, which runs March 28-31.
Following the breakout success of their last feature, which charted the spectacular rise of teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg, the duo are looking for partners to help finance, develop and produce the latest projects from one of the leading emerging voices in the field of climate-focused documentary filmmaking. “It’s so rare to be able to come with two international projects from Sweden about climate and the environment,” says Grossman, adding that both films will approach the subjects in unexpected and unconventional ways.
“Climate in Therapy” follows a group of scientists on the frontlines of climate change taking part in an innovative group therapy session, as they attempt to process their feelings about a planet in peril. The film examines their day-to-day efforts to cope with the burden of their work, while exploring how scientists expected to express themselves with academic cool really feel about the climate crisis.
It’s a story that resonates on a personal level for the director. “I’ve been affected so much emotionally by reading the science and following the climate movement for [‘I Am Greta’], and also just as a private person,” says Grossman. “I could see how everyone was so affected by what was said in these reports. But I never heard what the scientists that wrote the reports…felt about it. That’s how it started, that curiosity and wanting to understand their emotions.”
That curiosity led to a startling discovery once the director began contacting climate scientists around the world. “We quickly found that this topic was taboo,” he says. “The academic world [is] a place where emotions aren’t that highly regarded, because of objectivity reasons, and because of tradition within the academic community.” As one of the film’s subjects, a scientist with NASA, told him: “This is the first time anyone asks me how I feel, rather than what I think, about the climate crisis.”
The scientists featured in “Climate in Therapy” are at the forefront of climate research at some of America’s top universities. Drawn from a diverse range of backgrounds in both the Global North and South, they have often witnessed the devastating toll of climate change firsthand. “They’ve seen species go extinct, they’ve seen hurricanes crush entire cities,” says Grossman. Some are raising children or debating the ethics of bringing life into a world whose future looks increasingly dire.
Yet few have an outlet for their grief, fears and anxieties, or a way to process the psychological toll of bearing witness to the impact of climate change on the planet – even as policy-makers and the general public appear indifferent, unwilling or unable to act. “This is really the first time that they’re opening up about their inner emotions in regards to their work,” says Grossman. “And none of them have actually spoken about how it feels to be a climate scientist ever before. Some of them haven’t even spoken to their families about these thoughts.”
The therapy sessions are led by Richard Beck, one of the world’s most renowned experts in group therapy, who has led hundreds of sessions with people dealing with different types of trauma, including 9/11 survivors. While researching the film, which is currently in development, Grossman, Nessen and the research team took part in sessions of their own, performing many of the same exercises as the scientists they feature.
“For me, it was very emotional confronting many of those fears,” says Grossman. “I found that there are connections to my family history, coming from a family of Holocaust survivors. It was actually through this therapy that I started to understand how that story really connects to my worry, and also my fighting spirit, and why I think this issue is such an important thing for us to manage as quick as we can.”
For all the justifiable dread around the latest alarming climate report, or the growing frequency of “once-in-a-lifetime” weather phenomena on our rapidly heating planet, “Climate in Therapy” will be a departure from the familiar tropes of a cinematic genre that has become both increasingly popular and direly relevant.
“It’s going to be something completely new in this world, because it’s much more quirky and fun and humorous and open toward joking about these things,” says Grossman. “The therapy flows between crying and laughter in a way which this specific therapist lets his groups work. The tonality becomes softer and more human than these [images of] icebergs falling.”
That shift marks a conscious departure from the climate films that have preceded it. “It’s been practically 20 years of those films. Maybe we’re evolving [toward] films that connect more to grief and anxiety and loss and other feelings that come a bit later in that reaction curve,” he continues. “We’re trying to base our films on our own emotions toward climate and environmental topics. That’s what guides us.”
Nessen, who is producing “Climate in Therapy” through her B-Reel Films, agrees. “There has been this specific way of telling climate stories: you start with talking about how bad the situation is, and then in the end, you go into hope,” she says. “There’s been this very clear dramaturgy to telling climate films. And I think we need to move beyond that and tell them in new ways.”
The Copenhagen Intl. Documentary Film Festival (CPH:DOX) runs March 23-April 3.