Filled with meaningful interviews and beautiful landscape shots, Catching the Sun is a powerful documentary about the international movement towards using “green energy,” and the benefits that will come with using clean energy, both financial and health-related. Why is America falling behind other world powers China and Germany in this industry? Why should we care? Director Shalini Kantayya explores these questions and more in her persuasive debut feature. RAK: (4.5/5)
Review by FF2 Intern Rachel A. Kastner
Catching The Sun begins by profiling the city of Richmond, CA. Richmond is one of the lower-income cities on the West Coast. Many people live near or below the poverty line. Yet when they look out of their windows, they are looking at one of the largest and wealthiest corporation plants in the country: Chevron Oil Refinery. In the past 30 years, at least four major fires occurred at the plant. A huge fire in 2012 left 15,000 people seeking medical treatment, and air pollution will continue to effect the environment and community for years to come.
Catching the Sun follows Van Jones, a Richmond native, who has a solution to both the pollution and economic inequality in Richmond. Van Jones started an organization called Green4All, with the hopes of bringing the greenest solutions to the poorest people, and to create “green collar jobs.” The renewable energy market has huge potential growth and will be able to provide many jobs and business opportunities. Van Jones is committed to providing his family and his community with ladders to climb out of the economic inequality they face—while helping the environment.
Catching the Sun follows and profiles the trainees in the Solar Richmond Jobs Training program, run by a woman named Michele McGeoy. In Michele’s eyes, green jobs are a possible solution for poverty in every city. The audience is introduced to Paul Mudrow, an unemployed Richmond native, who is battling poverty in his home, and struggling to find work. Paul and his wife grapple with paying their bills, and for Paul, sustainable energy is his newest hope.
The documentary also provides the audience with context surrounding the current international race between several countries to becoming the “greenest country”. Director Shalini Kantayya takes us inside Westech, one of China’s largest solar innovation companies. Company founder Zhongwei ‘Wally’ Jiang’s success has been exponential in the past few years, and the documentary follows his journey as he continues to expand worldwide. The audience is also educated on the danger of America’s dependence on Middle Eastern countries for oil. Through this international lens, Catching the Sun makes a compelling case for why renewable energy is not only important in the scheme of economic equality, but national security as well.
Perhaps the most important issue that the documentary deals with, however, is the struggle that all clean-energy supporters face in obtaining government support to encourage solar innovation. In both China and Germany, the governments created policy to support this industry. Catching The Sun depicts the stark contrast between those governments, and the American government, which seems to protect the rights of the wealthy billionaire corporation CEOs whose companies rely on oil and carbon. These companies show no regard for their negative effects on the environment and population.
Although Catching the Sun does a thorough job at exposing the negativity and corruption in the government, it also highlights some very hopefully stories regarding the potential positive benefits of shifting towards clean energy. Debbie Dooley of Georgia started the Green Tea Coalition to encourage solar panel use in Georgia. Her story and fight is an example of a right wing conservative who understands that solar power is the future and will provide for free market. The audience is also introduced to Eddie Wiltz, a college dropout and recent graduate of the Solar Richmond Jobs Training program. Eddie’s story is inspiring; he speaks with hope and pride about his new job installing solar panels in Richmond city.
Catching the Sun is a compelling documentary whose message highlights the strength and power that lies in the population. In spring 2014, the people of NYC paraded together in the People’s Climate March. There are thousands of hopeful people who see promise and the potential benefits that lie in renewable energy: financial, international and environmental. Catching the Sun makes the case that it is not only important, but that it is possible for America to get back in the race towards clean energy.
Top Photo: Catching the Sun Media Poster
Middle Photo: Solar Richmond Jobs Training program trainee installing solar panels on a residential home.
Bottom Photo: Solar panel installer helmet and gloves, with a note reading, “The Future is Here.”
Photo Credits: New Day Films
Q: Does Catching The Sun pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?
With documentary films, it’s often a judgment call. I’m going to go ahead and say no, because there actually was no conversation that took place only between two women. There are women in this film who discuss science, solar power innovation and green energy, but often in interview style, and not with one another.