After finding his grandmother’s memoir, director Daniel Edelstyn decided to explore his background in the Ukraine. His grandmother, Maroussia Zorokovich, lived a rich and interesting life, but when Daniel Edelstyn reaches the Ukraine, he discovers that their family owned a vodka distillery, which drastically changes the direction of his documentary, How To Re-Establish A Vodka Empire. Screening at the 2012 Toronto Jewish Film Festival, the documentary follows Daniel and his partner Hilary Powell as they attempt to restore his family’s vodka distillery, become vodka importers and start a family of their own.
What starts out as a simple journey for Daniel as he explores his heritage, quickly becomes a task that he may not be able to handle. His family was known to have owned a sugar refinery in a small village. After reaching the small village that his grandmother grew up in, Daniel learns that they also owned a local vodka distillery. The village that the factories are in is slowly fading away. When the sugar factory closed, many of the younger villagers moved away in search of work. Even the distillery struggles to stay open, which gives Daniel a grand idea. He wants to restore the factory, bringing his family’s vodka to the UK, saving a small village in the process. With no experience in business, Daniel soon realizes that it’s not as easy as he thought, but it’s too late to give up once he’s started the process.
The combination of a great history, which translates into a great story for the vodka, and the charm that Daniel has, makes for an entertaining documentary. Business has always been a favorite subject for this reviewer, so getting to see the inside workings as Daniel attempts to start a new vodka brand couldn’t be more interesting. That alone won’t make a great documentary though, and it’s the relationship between Daniel and Hilary, as well as the intimate look into their lives, that will have audiences cheering them on. We want them to succeed because they’re such kind and caring people.
Even though Daniel may have changed his focus to a new brand of vodka, he doesn’t leave the story of his grandmother behind. Placed throughout the film are dramatized scenes based on his grandmother’s memoir. These star Daniel and Hilary, as well as many of their friends. While the story of a vodka company in the making are interesting enough, the dramatized scenes tend to steal the show. Hilary built all kinds of cardboard backgrounds while actors shot against a green screen. The final blend becomes this highly artistic silent film. They look absolutely gorgeous, shot in a sepia tone, with that familiar silent film stutter giving movement an exaggerated speed and look. His grandmother’s story sounds as grand as these scenes look, and the way they highlight Daniel’s journey give the film a great flow.
During filming, Daniel learns that Hilary is pregnant, giving birth to their daughter just as Daniel is bringing in his first shipment of vodka. Not only are they attempting to bring new life to a small village, but they’ve brought new life into their own family, carrying on the tradition of the Zorokovich heritage. It’s impossible to not fall in love with their project, and I’m sure many people will leave the theatre with thoughts of buying a bottle of Zorokovich vodka.
How To Re-Establish A Vodka Empire screens as part of the 2012 Toronto Jewish Film Festival on Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 4:00 pm and Sunday, May 13, 2012 at 4:30 pm. Check their website for tickets and details.
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