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3 reviews, 5 user ratings

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Power Trip
[] Buy posters from this movie
by Chris Parry

"The lights are on, but nobody's home. Oh wait, the lights are off now."
4 stars

Today's documentary needs to be many things to be considered top flight. If it doesn't sicken you or shock you, it must make you laugh. If it doesn't make you laugh, it must make you sit on the edge of your seat. If it doesn't make you sit on the edge of your seat, it must educate you in such an original way that you can't possibly consider changing channels to catch the last ten minutes of Fear Factor. That's a tall order when the documentary ethos has traditionally been to just tell the story, the whole story, and nothing but the story. But today's documentary filmmakers seem up to the task. Mostly.

Power Trip takes a walk on the unwild side, to Tblisia Georgia. Still trying to work out this new fangled 'independence' thing, the Georgian government decided pretty early in the piece that it would be an awesome idea to sell their electricity utility to an American company for the whopping sum of US$28m.

And no, I'm not missing a zero on the end of that figure.

So the Americans came marching in with deep pockets and brand new technology and... oops! Seems they hadn't done their homework.

See, Georgians are used to dodgy power companies and bills that don't need to actually be paid. Getting cut off isn't something they're largely familiar with, so when the Americans decide to up their bill collection rate from 15% by shutting off entire neighborhoods of power, the local population doesn't just get annoyed, they get angry. Loud and angry. Really very loud and angry.

So what are the Americans to do? How can you convince someone to pay their bill without holding the fear of disconnection over their heads? And how is a company supposed to make a profit when the government is siphoning off large percentages of power from the grid for use by large companies owned by the President of the country? Perhaps it wouldn't be so bad if any of those companies actually paid bills?

And that's where Power Trip takes a few turns you don't expect. You know that when the capitalists come marching in there's going to be a culture shock involved, but what you don't expect to see is how hard this company, and those working for it, work to make some reall social change in this country. When things go wrong, it'd be easy for them to pull up stakes and leave, or jack prices up to ridiculous levels (like most large American companies do when dealing with second and third world countries), but these guys are here to make change, and by gum they'll die trying.

To see the Georgian Minister for Power actually telling his grid operators on the phone to take the power away from communities and give it to industry is alarming stuff, especially when he denies such moves are taking place mere minutes later. To hear about all of the President's secret deals doesn't help matters. And to see images of a dead man who had made the mistake of trying to hook up his own power... well, that puts the issue into a whole new light.

How does a country bring itself up to our level when they can't get electricity for more than a few hours a night? How do they learn the value of competition and hard work when all the money is sucked up by wealthy friends of the higher-ups? And how are they supposed to see progress in their society when the very cornerstone of that society - power - is sold to foreigners for next to nothing?

Where filmmaker Paul Devlin goes wrong in Power Trip is by not pushing harder for details from those he knows personally - those working for the power company itself - in relation to whether the price being charged is too high, suddenly high, or fair. When the average monthly wage is barely more than the average monthly power bill, clearly you can't expect people to pay their bills. Where did this company go wrong? Who was responsible for the cock-ups, and are the Georgian people now paying for those?

While Devlin knows how to get us snickering, there's a level of softballing going on at times that is by no means intentional, but still present. It always will be when you're friends with those you're documenting. To his credit, Devlin retains a sense of humor about the whole thing, something evident when the screening I attended started playing without sound. Devlin simply walked down the aisle, turned to the audience and said, "they'll have it fixed shortly.. but in the meantime, you're getting a little first-hand knowledge of what it's like to live in Tblisi."

A stunning look at a culture we never see, and a worrying exposure of how easy it is, even in a democracy, for government to be taken away from the 'for the people, by the people' credo and delivered to wealthy vested interests, Power Trip is a fine piece of infotainment - but you can only wonder about what information might still be out there waiting to be uncovered.

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originally posted: 09/30/03 19:46:56
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Vancouver Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Vancouver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Seattle Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 San Francisco Film Festival. For more in the 2003 San Francisco Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

7/13/04 Trygve Inda Having lived through a Tbilisi winter, this was a wonderful film. 5 stars
10/10/03 Patrick McBride Evokes the look and feel of present day Georgia in a very powerful way 5 stars
7/22/03 Chaucey McLachlan Funny and "enlightening". 4 stars
5/28/03 Lela Datunashvili its good and realistic film 5 stars
5/12/03 MT Lights on, Lights on in Georgia 5 stars
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  10-Dec-2003 (NR)



Directed by
  Paul Devlin

Written by
  Paul Devlin


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