In 2012, the Chevron factory in Richmond, California, caught fire, spewing plumes of black smoke into the air — and the lungs of thousands of people. Of the many who suffered health problems, some began to look to alternative energy’s potential to save their community.
In Catching the Sun, documentary filmmaker Shalini Kantayya uses the fire as an entry point into a larger tapestry of interwoven problems facing America’s green-energy movement. She follows the decision-making processes of Van Jones, an environmentalist tapped by the Obama administration to identify the nation’s most pressing green-energy concerns, as Fox News pillories him as some Russian-style “czar.”
In Oakland, we watch as an unemployed fortysomething completes a solar-panel-installation training program only to struggle to find a job in a market still dominated by dirty energy. Kantayya argues that it doesn’t have to be this way.
Enter a Chinese entrepreneur whose green-energy company employs 15,000 people worldwide and whose dream is to build a “solar city” in Texas. His smile grows to face-splitting intensity as he holds up a picture of his “good friend” Rick Perry, former governor of Texas. The film is most persuasive when demonstrating that the need for solar energy transcends partisan politics.
Liberals and conservatives both make appearances, as do people of color and international activists. If we would only all work together, the film seems to suggest, we could enact a green revolution of global proportions. But, as Catching the Sun also makes depressingly clear, change won’t happen in Washington. It’s up to grassroots activists if solar power — and civilization as we know it — is to have a future.
Catching the Sun
Directed by Shalini Kantayya
The Film Collaborative
Opens April 1, Cinema Village