Power Trip

"Good"

Power Trip Review


It's helpful to remember, in these days of Enron and the occasional rolling blackout, that there are places in the world where the electricity supply is in worse shape. Much worse. Georgia (the former Soviet republic, not the U.S. state) is one of those places, a hard-luck country in the Caucasus mountains that's been invaded over the centuries by pretty much everyone else in the region, was forced into the Soviet Union in 1921 and declared independence in 1991. Unfortunately, independence meant years of civil war that ruined an already debilitated infrastructure and left corrupt politicians and vicious mafia bosses in charge of what was left. The documentary Power Trip is about what happened after January 1999, when American power company AES bought Telasi, the government electric utility for the capital city of Tbilsi, and discovered just how hard it was to simply get people to pay for their electricity.

During the Soviet era, Georgians didn't pay for their utilities, in the same manner that they didn't have to hunt for work; such things were simply there and taken for granted. But years of civil war and a serious tough streak (remember that Stalin came from Georgia) didn't leave the people open to the idea of paying $24 a month for something that had been free all their lives; the average Georgian makes only between $15 and $75 a month. So people either refused to pay, or pirated electricity from substations, which then further undermined the overloaded systems. Some of the most striking images in the film show the tangled cobwebs of fraying, barely insulated power lines strung hundreds of feet up crumbling high-rise Soviet apartment blocks.

Near the beginning of the film, which covers the story sporadically from 1999 to 2003, AES has just started to implement a no pay-no electricity policy, in order to retrieve some funds for their huge investment, which brings hordes of angry Georgians down to the office to complain. AES was losing about $2 million a month, though, since not only were regular customers not paying, but larger institutional clients like factories and even the army didn't pay and yet were given all the power they wanted by their buddies in the corrupt government, which had controlled distribution. As an AES employee ruefully notes, the army had tanks and lots of bored, unpaid soldiers, so their power got left on, even when whole sections of the city were dark. And all this was even before the aftershocks of 9/11 and Enron were felt.

Director Paul Devlin - who also produced and shot the film - had unusual amounts of access to the players in this drama, being a friend of AES troubleshooter Piers Lewis, a multilingual MacGyver-type who seems to relish the chaos of the Tbilsi situation, and ends up the not-so reluctant star of Power Trip. Bounding through falling-down office buildings, his long hair swinging (he refused to cut it until he achieved a 50% payment rate from the customers in his jurisdiction), Lewis tries to energize the old Georgian employees by using what he calls a "post-post-modern management system" - something that seems to be regarded by the crusty, cantankerous locals as something barely worth scoffing at.

Devlin's approach may strike some as surprisingly sympathetic towards AES, and you could probably pass it off to his being so close to Lewis. But still, one would expect a documentary in this situation to take a bunch of easy, Michael Moore-style swings at the company, which had invested almost $200 million in the country by spring 2002, and simply wanted to get a little money back for the service it was providing.

While Power Trip is far from flashy, and in fact could have gone further with the situation's opportunities for black humor, it is an admirably evenhanded and unusually entertaining story about one of those things that everyone takes for granted, even in a corner of the world as tragically unsettled as Georgia.



Power Trip

Facts and Figures

Run time: 86 mins

In Theaters: Friday 2nd May 2003

Distributed by: Films Transit International

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
Fresh: 31 Rotten: 2

IMDB: 7.4 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Paul Devlin

Producer: Paul Devlin

Starring: Dennis Bakke as Himself, Piers Lewis as Himself, Butch Mederos as Himself, as Himself, Michael Scholey as Himself

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