Power Trip

There's enough information packed into Paul Devlin's documentary about the woes besieging the former Soviet republic of Georgia for two movies, but keep your ears pricked and your wits about you and you won't find a more gripping treatment of Georgia's troubled transition from communism to market capitalism. Economic catastrophe and civil strife have plagued...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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There's enough information packed into Paul Devlin's documentary about the woes besieging the former Soviet republic of Georgia for two movies, but keep your ears pricked and your wits about you and you won't find a more gripping treatment of Georgia's troubled transition from communism to market capitalism. Economic catastrophe and civil strife have plagued Georgia and its capital, Tbilisi, ever since the republic declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, and things only seem to be getting worse. Witness the series of energy crises that tore Tiblisi apart beginning in 2000, not long after the government's sale of Telasi, the company responsible for distributing electricity across the Georgian grid, to the U.S. corporation AES, the world's largest independently owned power company. Residents whose monthly salary averaged around $50 were now expected to pay their own electric bills, and in the spring of 2000, AES-Telasi saw no choice but to cut power to those unable to fork over the relatively hefty $24 a month fee. But before you jump to any conclusions about U.S. multinationals occupying third-world countries, it turns out AES weren't necessarily the bad guys. On camera, CEO Dennis Bakke seems genuinely sincere in his company's commitment to bring clean, safe and affordable energy to Georgia, and there's undoubtedly much truth behind AES general director Michael Scholey's claim that AES can't fix the system unless their consumers pay their bills (it's estimated that AES had lost upwards of $190 million since acquiring the company). But standing between AES and the plants that produce the electricity for Tbilisi is another kind of power structure: the deeply corrupt bureaucracy that has been allowed to flourish in the post-Soviet void, a tangled web fronted by Ministry of Energy fat-cats and the all-powerful National Dispatch Center that routinely reroutes Tbilisi's electricity to non-paying friends and relatives of the Georgian government. Our guide through this particular hell is Piers Lewis, an English-born globetrotter who found himself in the unlikely position of consulting for AES as they attempted to sort through the mess. It's an amazing story, but Devlin lays out so much in so little time — in a scant 86 minutes he touches on everything from shameless ballot-stuffing in the presidential elections to the murder of a TV journalist who'd been investigating police involvement in the kidnapping of foreigners — that his exploration of a very real national crisis takes on the fevered tone of your worst dystopian nightmare. (In English and Georgian, with English subtitles.)

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  • Released: 2003
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: There's enough information packed into Paul Devlin's documentary about the woes besieging the former Soviet republic of Georgia for two movies, but keep your ears pricked and your wits about you and you won't find a more gripping treatment of Georgia's tro… (more)

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