Shalini Kantayya has always been hard to peg, from her upbringing split between suburban Connecticut and southern India to her career as an eco-activist cum reality TV star. But Kantayya’s ease with dualities has given the founder of 7th Empire Media a unique creative vision: using popular, almost sexy images to draw attention to stark topics like the world’s water shortage. In 2007, in fact, the Ditmas Park filmmaker won industry interest, and she was chosen as one of the top 10 directors out of 12,000 contestants on Steven Spielberg’s Fox reality TV show about filmmakers called On the Lot. Now her latest work, ADrop of Life, is set in the near future, illustrating the world’s water crisis by combining the narratives of two women: a South Indian schoolteacher and a New York City executive, who wind up vying for the same life-sustaining staple—clean drinking water.Her approach and her dedication to issues like these—the filmmaker and Ayurvedic practitioner just got back from Mumbai, where she was filming street-theater actors in protest against a Coca-Cola plant contaminating the local water supply—helped Kantayya score a two-year Kellogg Food and Society Policy Fellowship, awarded to visionaries who use media to engage the greater public in issues related to food safety and sustainable agriculture.Joining the likes of Anna Lappé and Bryant Terry, Food and Society Fellow alums who have both lived and worked in Brooklyn, Kantayya intends to tap her background in water rights and food security activism while continuing to use film as her medium of choice.The project will feed the filmmaker’s wanderlust. She’ll spend the next two years working the college campus circuit lecturing and screening short films, which aim to inspire students to pressure their university administrations into negotiating contracts that ensure fair rights for workers and food that is produced using sustainable methods of agriculture.
“College-aged kids are the most overly marketed demographic,” Kantayya says. “A lot of students don’t realize they actually have a voice in how their schools contract food companies.”
And when it comes to our own water, Kantayya stresses that the best sip food-conscious Brooklynites can take is from a reusable bottle, like a stainless steel Klean Kanteen. (“People don’t realize that it takes more water to produce the plastic bottle than the product you’re paying for inside.”)
Now if the filmmaker could just make it so we can tote those into the theater to see her movies, we’d really be getting somewhere.
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