| A contractor for American multi-national AES assesses how to remove countless illegal lines that are used to steal electricity by residents of Tbilisi. (Photo by Paul Devlin) |
When I lived in Tbilisi, the capital of what was then still Soviet Georgia, power outages were erratic, frequent, and exasperating. Sporadic returns to the dark ages meant peeing by flashlight, sleeping in an overcoat, and eating uncooked crumbs. Grousing about the ineptitude and indifference of Communist bureaucracy provided cold comfort. Georgia declared its independence in 1991, but the transition to democracy and free enterprise has not been as simple as flipping a switch. Throughout a decade of civil war and economic collapse, Georgians have suffered from the instability of power - both electrical and governmental.
Power Trip is a nonfiction account of one country's transition to a market economy. Director Paul Devlin, whose previous work has included broadcasts of football, basketball, soccer, and other sporting events, presents Tbilisi as an urban arena in which Telasi, the company that supplies electricity to Georgian homes and businesses, wrestles with a populace that refuses to settle its debts. When Applied Energy Services (AES), an American conglomerate based in Virginia, buys Telasi for $35 million, it begins losing $120,000 per day. Accustomed to receiving free electricity under the old regime, Georgians, whose average monthly income is $15, balk at paying for their power. Forty percent of customers rig up illegal, often dangerous, lines. AES-Telasi responds to an epidemic of overdue bills by cutting off electricity to 90 percent of customers. Power Trip begins with images of furious consumers converging on the streets of Tbilisi.
Generators, grids, and meters are fairly abstract matters, but the film personalizes the situation by focusing on a few engaging personalities. Piers Lewis, a cheerful young Londoner who works for AES-Telasi, sports shoulder-length hair throughout the film on account of a vow not to cut his locks until half the bills are paid. Proclaiming "integrity, responsibility, social fairness, and fun" as organizational principles, Dennis Bakke, CEO and co-founder of AES, insists that he is driven less by profits than compassion for the Georgian people. "Our purpose is to serve the world," he says. But he cannot provide power without recompense. "If you don't have power, it means you are hungry," notes broadcast journalist Akaki Gogichaishvili. "You are cold. You're in the dark. No information. It's like being dead."
| Power Trip
Dir. Paul Devlin (NR)
Like a six-sided outlet clogged with extension cord plugs, Power Trip overloads its account of resistance by a post-Communist populace to capitalist culture. But it ought to spark interest in a fascinating outpost about which most Americans remain in the dark. •