“Electricity is connected with hope … it’s something very oppressing. You feel so insecure when light goes out.” Leeka Basilaia is an investigative journalist for Rustavi-2 Television, and a resident of Georgia, a former Soviet Republic. Georgia declared its independence soon after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, and since then has endured civil wars and economic devastation. Electricity used to be provided by the government, but in January 1999, an American corporation bought the system.
Director, editor and producer Paul Devlin’s Power Trip documents the difficulties the American multinational underwent in implementing their capitalist corporate ways within a society still clinging to its Old-World socialist mentality. In Georgia’s capital Tbilisi, a great deal of the population was raised to hate Western capitalism, with some looking at the electric company as an American occupation of sorts. Power Trip is a patchwork of opinions intertwined throughout Georgia’s electrical lifeline, touching on culture clash, public rage and theft. Over and over again the film exhibits the pirating of power; from tangled and deadly dangerous knots of do-it-yourself wire cables feeding underprivileged housing, to battles against well-established government corruption allowing the national dispatch center to divert electricity to non-paying industrial customers.
After watching Power Trip, I can’t help but think the information it provides could have been easily digested from a series of articles with ultimately the same result. The director dragged out watery commentary by the company’s strategic project director Piers Lewis, such as documenting Lewis’ refusal to cut his hair until at least 50 percent of customers pay their bills (at the beginning of the film, only 10 percent were paying for their power). It was probably an attempt to make the film more personable; it came off as trite and unnecessarily time-consuming. Shots of magnificent landscapes, weathered faces from another time, a place and culture where Old World arts like woodcarving and making your own cheese and wine visually enhance the film, but Devlin is coming from too much of an insider’s perspective to keep an outsider’s interest.
Showing exclusively at the Madstone Theatre, 462 Briarwood Circle, Ann Arbor. Call 734-994-1000.
Anita Schmaltz writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].