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`Power' documents an American failure in ex-Soviet state

By Michael Wilmington
Tribune movie critic
Published July 16, 2004

"Power Trip," opening Friday for a week run at Facets, is cinema journalism on a deeply troubling subject: director Paul Devlin's ("SlamNation") disturbing, yet weirdly entertaining tale of the lights going out in Georgia. That's not our Georgia, but the country that was part of the old Soviet Union and the birthplace of late dictator Joseph Stalin, and today a land where the crumbling economic and social superstructure of part of the old Soviet Union is illuminated.

Devlin's focus is on the horrendous difficulties of AES Corp., an American electric power giant that has taken over the country's power supply--but can't get things to run properly. The plants work fine, but most of their customers (90 percent at one point) won't or can't pay their bills, since AES charges a fee far above the old average customer rate and since its most powerful and affluent customers--such as industry and the Army--refuse to pay.

With the company unable to make money, with the whole social and political structure of Georgia shredding into corruption and gangsterism and with an international power crisis triggered by the collapse of Enron Corp., what we witness is steadily mounting catastrophe. We see it mostly though the eyes of Devlin's school friend, Piers Lewis, a British-born, project director sent to Georgia to figure out a better collections system (which he briefly does).

The country we see here is in horrible shape, awash in crime and a failing economy--and the well-intentioned but futile efforts by companies like AES to bring the benefits of enlightened capitalism seem to be failing too.

Devlin shows all this with guerrilla-style camera-work and lively editing that keeps his story hurtling along. "Power Trip," winner of several international documentary prizes, gives us the kind of news we often get only from good indie documentaries--and it's a story all of us should know. (In English and Georgian, with English subtitles.) Running time: 1:26. No MPAA rating: parents cautioned for some language. ((star)(star)(star))


Facets is at 1517 W. Fullerton Ave. Call 773-281-9075 or visit

Copyright 2004, Chicago Tribune

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