Shalini Kantayya

Solar energy isn't just about solving climate change. It's about innovation and economic opportunity.

Filmmaker, Eco-Activist, TED Fellow

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Shalini Kantayya | Filmmaker, Eco-Activist, TED Fellow
Lavin Exclusive Speaker

Brooklyn-based filmmaker, educator, and eco-activist Shalini Kantayya uses film to educate and empower audiences, exploring human rights at the intersection of water, food, and energy. Her production company 7th Empire Media works to create a culture of human rights and sustainability through imaginative media. She most recently directed Breakthrough for National Geographic: a series profiling trailblazing scientists who will transform our future (airing Spring 2017, Executive Produced by Ron Howard).

Kantayya’s latest film is Catching the Sun, a feature documentary that explores the race for the clean energy future through the stories of solar entrepreneurs in the U.S. and China. The film premiered at the 2015 Los Angeles Film Festival and was named a New York Times Critics’ Pick. It’s also part of American Film Showcase, and will be shown at U.S. embassies and diplomatic missions around the world. The film won the Best Feature award at the San Francisco Green Film Festival, and was released globally on Netflix on Earth Day 2016 with Executive Producer Leonardo DiCaprio. Catching the Sun has been nominated by the Environmental Media Association for the 2016 EMA Award for Best Documentary. 


“A must-see film. An eye-opening look at workers and entrepreneurs on the forefront of the clean energy movement that will transform, and enliven the way you see the future. What is clear is the wonderful opportunity the transition to clean energy represents.”

— Mark Ruffalo

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 award-winning sci-fi film about the world water crisis, A Drop of Life, was broadcast on national television in the U.S. and India. A Drop of Life was used as a tool to organize for water rights in 40 villages across Africa—making a real-world impact in the lives of thousands. 


Kantayya is a Sundance Fellow, and a TED Fellow. She was also a finalist for the ABC/Disney Directing Program. A William D. Fulbright Scholar, she has lectured at Princeton, Yale, Stanford, USC, among others. She has received recognition from the Sundance Documentary Program, IFP Spotlight on Documentary, New York Women in Film and Television, and the Jerome Hill Centennial.

Speech Topics

Climate Change
Catching the Sun The Clean Energy Future

There’s a race afoot for the clean energy future—the foremost global economic opportunity of our time. Already more than half of the new energy that’s coming online globally is from renewable sources. It represents a trillion dollar industry. And all over the world, countries are making a transition. Some countries will actually leap-frog the grid and catapult into a distributed future. President Obama has said “the country that leads in clean energy will be the country that leads the 21st Century.” The U.S. can help lead a global transition to clean energy that can rebuild the ladder of economic opportunity in America. Solving the energy crisis could be a party of innovation, invention, and economic opportunity through disruptive technologies that democratize energy. 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?

Inside the Mounting Water Crisis

Having come of age between Brooklyn and Bombay, Kantayya first became passionate about water rights while filming at the Kumbha Mela, a religious festival that happens at the confluence of three sacred rivers.  She found the statistics alarming: two-thirds of the world's people will not have adequate access to clean drinking water by the year 2027. And there are no borders to this crisis. As demand rapidly exceeds supply, every species on the planet is in danger. Your access is at risk. The question is what will you do about it? In this gripping film screening and interactive talk, Shalini Kantayya fuses personal and political to explore the mounting worldwide water crisis, helping audiences to see water as a basic human right and inspiring them to make change.

Social Change
Story Leads to Action
Shalini Kantayya finished in the top 10 out of 12,000 filmmakers in On the Lot, the Steven Spielberg show in search of Hollywood's next great director. Her company, 7th Empire Media, aims to create a culture of human rights and a sustainable planet through imaginative media that makes a real impact. In this entertaining and interactive presentation, Kantayya uses clips from her award-winning films to address to talk about how to tell a story that moves the heart, reaches new audiences, and makes real change. The keynote will include an overview of framing, messaging, and the elements of how to tell an engaging story. Using a variety of visual media, this keynote shares tools on how to use the power of a story to communicate your message and drive real change.