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Reviews

Time Out New York

Power Trip
Dir. Paul Devlin. 2003. 85mins.
In Georgian and English, with subtitles.
Documentary.


December 11-18, 2003

How do you get people to pay for something they've always received for free? Power Trip, director Paul Devlin's gripping documentary about one corporation's attempt to privatize electricity service in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, uses this premise as a jumping-off point. It ultimately becomes a microcosmic illustration of the country's disastrous transition from socialism to a free-market society.


TOWER OF POWER
The AES company tries to energize post-Soviet Georgia.
In 1999, less than a decade after the fall of the Soviet Union, Washington, DC-based Applied Energy Sources, the world's largest independent power company, attempted to bring Western management to the depressed city of Tbilisi, Georgia, by purchasing the government's electricity-distribution company. As Devlin follows this ambitious experiment in capitalism, it's clear that AES managers are in over their heads. Their customers, who earn the equivalent of $75 a month, refuse to pay the basic $24 monthly electric bill, instead finding resourceful ways to steal juice (mass tangles of buzzing wires, hot to the touch, are strung from home to home).

AES initially cuts power to nonpayers, including the army and airport, but restores it as an act of social responsibility. Worse, AES execs have no recourse over the crooked ministry of energy, which continues to use bribes and fear to wield control over the region's power grid. By film's end, AES has lost $200 million on its failed mission. Devlin's timing is impeccable, given the recent resignation of corrupt Georgian president Eduard Shevardnadze, and Power Trip is not to be missed.

- Lisa Sweetingham

(Now playing; Film Forum; see also "Nervous energy", page 83.)