Shalini Kantayya

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Shalini Kantayya
Kantayya at the Environmental Media Awards in 2016
Alma materHampshire College (BA)
City College of New York (MFA)
  • Filmmaker
  • activist
  • speaker
AgentLavin Agency
Known forFox's On the Lot, Catching the Sun, A Drop of Life
TelevisionOn the Lot, Breakthrough

Shalini Kantayya is an American filmmaker and environmental activist based in Brooklyn, New York, whose films explore human rights at the intersection of water, food, and renewable energy. Kantayya is best known for her debut feature documentary, Catching the Sun.

Early life and education[edit]

Born to Indian parents with a mother who emigrated to the United States,[1] Kantayya was born and raised in Hartford, Connecticut.[2] She received a BA in Media Studies and International Human Rights from Hampshire College in Massachusetts, and an MFA in Film Direction from the City College of New York.[2]


Kantayya finished in the top 10 out of 12,000 filmmakers on Fox’s On the Lot, a reality television talent show by Steven Spielberg, Mark Burnett and David Goffin.[3][failed verification]

She founded the production company 7th Empire Media in 2011.[4]


A Drop of Life - Director[edit]

Set in the near future, A DROP OF LIFE is the story of two women, a village teacher in rural India and an African American corporate executive, whose disparate lives intersect when they are both confronted with lack of access to clean drinking water.[5]

Kantayya's sci-fi film about the world water crisis, A Drop of Life, was broadcast on national television in the U.S. and India.[6] The film was used by the African Water Network as a tool to organize for water rights in 40 villages across Africa.[7]

Catching the Sun - Director[edit]

Kantayya's feature-length documentary, Catching the Sun, premiered at the 2015 Los Angeles Film Festival[8][9] and was named a New York Times Critics’ Pick.[10] It’s also part of American Film Showcase,[11] and was planned to be shown at U.S. embassies and diplomatic missions abroad. Catching the Sun premiered globally on Netflix on Earth Day 2016 with Executive Producer Leonardo DiCaprio,[12] and won the Best Feature award at the San Francisco Green Film Festival.[citation needed]

Breakthrough - Director[edit]

In 2016, Kantayya directed an episode for the National Geographic series: Breakthrough.[13] The series was executive produced by Ron Howard which will air in the spring of 2017 "in 440 million homes in 171 countries and in 45 languages, as well as on the Spanish language network Nat Geo Mundo".[14] The new series documents "scientific explorers from leading universities and institutions and how their cutting-edge innovations and advancements will change our lives in the immediate future and beyond".[15]

Coded Bias - Director[edit]

Coded Bias is an American documentary film that premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.[16] It was directed by Kantayya and follows researchers and advocates, principally MIT computer scientist Joy Buolamwini, as they explore how algorithms encode and propagate bias.[17][18][19][20]

Awards and recognition[edit]

Kantayya has received recognition from the Sundance Documentary Program,[21] IFP Spotlight on Documentary,[citation needed] New York Women in Film and Television,[citation needed] John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation,[22][23] and the Jerome Hill Centennial. She is a Sundance Fellow,[citation needed] TED Fellow,[24] a finalist for the ABC | DGA Directing Fellowship,[25] and a Fulbright Scholar.[citation needed]

Personal life[edit]

In 2013, Kantayya revealed in a New York Times op-ed that she had been sexually assaulted in India while there to film a project for a United States–based organization. She proceeded to press charges and was later diagnosed with PTSD, which inspired her to speak out against sexual assault not only in India but also the United States.[1]


  1. ^ a b Kantayya, Shalini (19 February 2013). "A Personal Nightmare of Assault in India". On the Ground. Retrieved 2017-04-17.
  2. ^ a b "Home - Shalini Kantayya". Retrieved 2017-04-17.
  3. ^ Michael Schneider (2006-04-06). "Aspiring auteurs get dose of reality". Variety. Retrieved 2007-06-03.
  4. ^ "7th Empire Media: "Lights, Camera, Activism"". Archived from the original on 2017-05-17. Retrieved 2017-04-15.
  5. ^ "A Drop of Life". 7th Empire Media. Retrieved 2017-04-15.
  6. ^ Drop of life, retrieved 2017-04-15
  7. ^ Staff Reporter. "Filmmaker Paints a Dystopian Vision with 'A Drop of Life'". India West. Retrieved 2017-04-15.
  8. ^ Gettell, Oliver (2015-05-05). "L.A. Film Festival announces its world-premiere-studded 2015 lineup". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2017-04-15.
  9. ^ "7th Empire Media Presents "Catching The Sun" At LA Film Festival: World Premiere Documentary That Explores The Global Race To A Clean Energy Future". PRWeb. Retrieved 2017-04-15.
  10. ^ Webster, Andy (2016-03-31). "Review: 'Catching the Sun' Profiles Solar Energy Entrepreneurs and Activists". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-04-15.
  11. ^ "Catching The Sun". Retrieved 2017-04-15.
  12. ^ "DiCaprio-produced documentary about solar makes Netflix debut". MNN - Mother Nature Network. Retrieved 2017-04-15.
  13. ^ "Shalini Kantayya on the Future of Water". National Geographic - Videos, TV Shows & Photos - Asia. Archived from the original on April 24, 2016. Retrieved 2017-04-14.
  14. ^ "National Geographic Channel Greenlights Second Season of Critically Acclaimed Series Breakthrough". (Press release). 25 July 2016. Retrieved 2017-04-15.
  15. ^ "Breakthrough". National Geographic - Videos, TV Shows & Photos - Asia. Archived from the original on December 3, 2015. Retrieved 2017-04-17.
  16. ^ Kendall, Dana (January 31, 2020). "Now Streaming: 'Coded Bias' Exposes Tech Made without Women and BIPOC in Mind". Retrieved 2020-12-05.
  17. ^ Complex, Valerie (2020-02-13). "'Coded Bias': Film Review". Variety. Retrieved 2020-12-05.
  18. ^ "When Bias Is Coded Into Our Technology". Retrieved 2020-12-05.
  19. ^ Girish, Devika (2020-11-11). "'Coded Bias' Review: When the Bots Are Racist". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-12-05.
  20. ^ Allen, Nick. "Coded Bias movie review & film summary (2020)". Retrieved 2020-12-05.
  21. ^ "Sundance Institute Announces Grants to 25 Documentaries". Retrieved 2017-04-14.
  22. ^ Lisa Tsering. "Activist-Filmmaker Kantayya Wins MacArthur Grant". India West. Retrieved 2017-04-15.
  23. ^ "7th Empire Media — MacArthur Foundation". Retrieved 2017-04-15.
  24. ^ "Shalini Kantayya | TED Fellow". Retrieved 2017-04-14.
  25. ^ Obenson, Tambay A. "Disney's 2012-14 ABC DGA Directing Program Finalists Announced (Karamuu Kush, Tina Mabry, Others Make The Cut)". Retrieved 2017-04-14.

External links[edit]