In a city where oil spills, ecological red-alerts, and poverty are commonplace, Shalini Kantayya's documentary film Catching the Sun asks the hard questions of how a clean and renewable energy economy may actually be built, through the stories of unemployed American workers seeking to retool at a solar power jobs training program in Richmond, California.


Over the course of a solar training program and subsequent search for jobs, Shalini Kantayya's documentary movie Catching the Sun explores the hope and heartbreak of unemployed American workers pursuing jobs in the clean energy economy. The film explores characters who reflect the diverse landscape of the United States; a young man coming of age who seeks training as a solar installer; Van Jones, the Bay Area community activist who goes to Washington to elevate the national conversation green jobs and implement policy; and Wally Jiang, the Chinese CEO with a bright future.  Through these interwoven character dramas, Shalini Kantayya's documentary film Catching the Sun carefully weaves the promises and challenges facing this emerging industry. Shalini Kantayya's documentary film Catching the Sun tells the story of environmental transformation from the rarely considered perspective of workers who may build a solution with their own hands, and their successes, failures, and challenges speak to one of the biggest questions of our time: will America actually, in a nuts-and-bolts way, be able to build a clean energy economy?


Against a mounting environmental crisis, a plummeting economy, and a national energy crisis, a movement is gaining momentum to create clean energy solutions that could also create millions of jobs. This movement aims to achieve a Great Energy Transition from dependence on fossil fuels to renewable clean energy derived from solar, wind, and hydrothermal. This movement has the potential to lift millions out of poverty by connecting the people who most need work with the work that most needs doing. President Obama has promised $150 billion over ten years to create 5 million new jobs in clean energy. But even with federal support and positive buzz, only a fraction of 1 percent of the electricity in the United States comes from solar.  If we are to successfully repower America, clean energy must be made more financially competitive with burning coal and oil through more aggressive government policies. The oil and gas industry has been propped up with massive tax breaks, over $40 billion in subsidies, and the support of the U.S. military. Building a clean energy economy will involve a huge economic reordering—tax incentives for clean tech industries, new tariffs and subsidies for renewables, and millions of job losses and gains. If we are to succeed in retrofitting the nation for clean energy, a new generation of workers must be trained to confront the massive technological challenges that lie ahead. But who wins and who loses? What does building a ‘green economy’ actually look like on the ground?


Shalini Kantayya finished in the top 10 out of 12,000 filmmakers on Fox’s ON THE LOT, a show by Steven Spielberg in search of Hollywood’s next great director.  Her sci-fi film about the world water crisis, a DROP of LIFE, won Best Short at Palm Beach International, a Crystal Dior Nomination, and was used as a tool to organize for water rights in 40 villages across Africa.  A William D. Fulbright Scholar, her film Manthan (The Churning) won Best Documentary at the Asian American Film Festival. Shalini Kantayya has received recognition from the Sundance Documentary Program, IFP Spotlight on Documentary, Jerome Hill Centennial, New York Women in Film and Television, and Media Action Network for Asian Americans. She is a Sundance Fellow, a TED Fellow, and a finalist for the ABC Directing Fellowship.


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