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Power Trip, Vol 2, Jan 2006
Ironweed Film Club


 
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Volume 2
They say that power corrupts, and nowhere is that more literally true than in Tbilisi, the capital of the former Soviet Republic of Georgia Electrical power, using it, stealing it, supplying it, and even dying for it, is the focus of Power Trip, a fascinating documentary by Paul Devlin.

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When POWER TRIP begins in 1999, nearly 90 percent of AES's customers are refusing to pay their electricity bills. Many are being billed for utilities for the first time in their lives—under Communism, the state provided everyone with electricity. Now, AES’s 24-dollar-a-month utility bill is about half of the average Georgian’s monthly income. Unable to afford payments, the citizens of Tbilisi install flimsy wires across their buildings, stealing electricity from their neighbors.

Piers Lewis, the project manager for AES, explains the conflict: "AES-Telasi is here to make them pay, and they don't want to pay. But somebody has to pay to fix this system." AES's initial strategy is to disconnect non-paying customers en masse, in order to compel payment. But angry customers quickly overrun its offices, many claiming that they have already paid their bills. The company soon discovers that many of the customers' payments have been stolen somewhere along the payment stream. As disconnections continue, anger turns to rioting and the managers of AES-Telasi are forced to re-evaluate their strategy.

The erratic supply of electricity to Tbilisi from the National Dispatch is another tangled knot that Piers Lewis tries to unravel as he struggles with institutional corruption. The winter of 2001 is one of the harshest in memory as dwindling supply has left most of the city with electricity for only three or four hours a day. Customers take to the streets almost daily to burn tires and block traffic, protesting against the American company. Corrupt political interests in the Georgian government have diverted much of the electricity supply purchased by AES-Telasi to non-paying industrial customers in outlying regions, leaving Tbilisi in virtual darkness.

POWER TRIP also introduces such Tbilisians as Datto, the Georgian commercial billing manager who is not above temporarily disconnecting an airport just as a plane is landing in order to compel it to pay its debt; Akaki, who hosts a Georgian investigative journalism show called 60 Minutes and has dodged multiple death threats; and his colleague Giorgi, a news anchor, who was murdered in his apartment after viewing an incriminating videotape. As AES-Telasi appears to be making progress, the Enron scandal undermines the entire
U.S. energy sector, devastating AES stock. Shareholders insist that AES pull out of Georgia, while the U.S. government pressures its employees to stay, as terrorist threats increase in nearby regions.

As it explores the implications of a Western-fueled pursuit of globalization and privatization, POWER TRIP’s surprisingly humorous, non-fiction narrative provides insight into today's headlines while also offering an affectionate and entertaining glimpse into a country struggling to rebuild itself from the rubble of Soviet collapse.

On This DVD:
Power Trip Paul Devlin - 2004 - 85 minutes
Red Diaper Baby - Doug Pray - 2004 90 minutes
Power Trip
Power Trip

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