Filmmaker Shalini Kantayya breaks down the clean energy revolution
Brooklyn filmmaker Shalini Kantayya is known for her activist film features that break the mold, forging forward in the fight for a renewable and equally-accessible planet.
Her talk at the University of Alberta covers the clean energy movement and discusses factors involved in creating a future-minded city with cleaner industries.
Kantayya’s best-known film, Catching the Sun (2015), focuses on the global shift toward solar energy and its ability to empower those who have fallen into the margins of society.
“Seeing how environmental collapse impacts communities that are most vulnerable, I wondered if the opposite could also be true,” Kantayya says. “I wondered if by creating more sustainable, resilient environments we can also create more resilient, thriving communities.”
Her films begin with a compelling question, often politically-charged, and end with a human story that touches on much larger themes.
“I feel [that] sometimes stories about the environment are failing because we think that stories about the environment don’t include people,” Kantayya says. “The destiny of the environment and the destiny of human beings are intimately and inextricably intertwined.”
She tells the story of the California-based non-profit organization, Solar Richmond. Their innovative training program teaches the skills of green energy to low-income communities. Many of which feel the effects of industry moving overseas and environmental and health disasters related to what Kantayya calls “an outdated oil industry.”
The practical investment and job potentials unearthed in the film are what sets it apart from others in the environmental genre.
“I was sort of raised by a single mom from India, and she raised me with the idea that if you work hard and play by the rules, you should be able to live a dignified life and achieve your dreams,” she says. “And yet, when I visited cities like Richmond, where my film takes place, I saw that dream of upward mobility eroding.”
Misconceptions surrounding clean energy often label it as not economically accessible and only for elites, but that’s becoming less the case. The documentary touches on China’s innovations, making quick work of cost-efficient and higher impact solar panels for the market.
The timeline for solar energy integration has dropped precipitously since the early ‘70s. Currently, the expectation is for it to take large-scale effect in anywhere between 10 and 15 years. The first solar cell was developed in 1954, having an efficiency of about six percent. Today, manufacturers can achieve an efficiency of over 46 percent.
Simply put, clean energy is an economic opportunity for progressive countries to set themselves up to be future industrial, financial and policy leaders.
“This change is actually happening already and it’s just a matter of whether we lead or we follow,” she says speaking of countries like Germany and Norway, which have already embarked on clean energy initiatives and investments.
Kantayya continues on her mission this spring with her next film, which follows a Sri Lankan marine biologist working to save the largest mammal on Earth, the blue whale.
Tue., Jan. 30 (7 pm)
The Race for a Clean Energy Future
Centennial Centre for Interdisciplinary Science University of Alberta, Room 1-430
Free (Register at uab.ca/iweek)