Power Trip

January 25, 2005

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About the Documentary

With its rampant corruption, political assassinations and regular street riots, the former Soviet Republic of Georgia is, in the words of one journalist, “a basket case.” During the country’s old Soviet days, electric power was cheap—or even free. But when AES Corp., a massive “global power company,” purchases the privatized electricity distribution company in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, everything changes. Power Trip is the story of the tragicomic clash of cultures that results when an American energy conglomerate takes over a formerly state-run electricity company in a country whose residents are, at best, ambivalent, and, at worst, furious about its presence there.

Policemen try to restrain an angry crowd in a Tbilisi square.

A pile of paper burns with tall flames alongside a Tbilisi park, as people flee the scene.

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.


The Filmmakers

Paul Devlin
Paul Devlin is an award-winning filmmaker whose work includes SlamNation, distributed nationally in theaters and cablecast on HBO/Cinemax and Encore/Starz. His fiction film, The Eyes of St. Anthony, is distributed by Tapestry International. As a freelance video editor, Devlin has been awarded five Emmys for his work with NBC at the Olympic Games and with CBS at the Tour de France. His extensive credits as an editor include commercials, music videos, weekly television shows and sports television including the Super Bowl, World Cup Soccer and the NCAA Basketball Championships, among others. Devlin is also the producing editor on Freestyle: The Art of Rhyme, broadcast on VH-1 and winner of a Special Jury Award for Documentary Filmmaking at the 2002 Florida Film Festival.

Claire Missanelli
Claire Missanelli was raised in Pennsylvania, received her B.A. in media communications from La Salle University and attended graduate studies at NYU Film School. She resides in New York City and is a producer who has worked on a variety of projects, including the 2000 National Poetry Slam Finals, As An Act of Protest and James Baldwin’s Blues for Mr. Charlie for the National Black Theatre in Harlem.

Valeri Odikadze
Valeri Odikadze has been working for the independent and most popular TV channel in Georgia, Rustavi 2 Broadcasting Company, since 1994 as a video producer, director and videographer. For two years he worked for the Georgian investigative television show 60 Minutes. He has served as an editor on projects such as the Georgian language adaptation of the PBS animated series Teletubbies and has taught students editing at a media school in Georgia. He presently works as a full-time producer, editor and videographer for Rustavi 2 Broadcasting Company’s documentary film department.

Full Credits