Review: ‘Catching the Sun’ shines light all over the place on solar energy efforts

Workers install solar panels in the documentary movie "Catching the Sun," by director Shalini Kantayya.

Workers install solar panels in the documentary movie “Catching the Sun,” by director Shalini Kantayya.

(7th Empire Media)

“Catching the Sun,” chronicling international efforts to harness solar energy, kicks off with a bang courtesy of footage from Chevron’s 2012 refinery explosion in Richmond, Calif.

But Shalini Kantayya’s debut documentary feature never stays in any one place long enough to make a sufficient impact. Initially centering on a solar jobs training program in struggling Richmond, the film then moves onto the trials and tribulations of former Obama administration special adviser for green jobs, current CNN analyst Van Jones.

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Jones, the charismatic Bay Area founder of the Green for All movement, makes for a worthy subject on his own, but then attention shifts to Wuxi, China, for a profile of Wally Jiang, the ever-upbeat president of WesTech Solar Technology, which ultimately feels like not-so-subtle product placement.


Along the way, Kantayya tosses in some interesting historical tidbits, such as the fact that President Carter had solar panels installed on the White House roof, which President Reagan subsequently had removed as one of his first official orders of business.

While it’s admittedly refreshing to see a documentary taking a decidedly sunnier, pro-active approach to pressing environmental issues, “Catching the Sun” could have benefited from a more concentrated focus.


‘Catching the Sun’


Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 13 minutes

Playing: Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills