In documentary How to Re-establish a Vodka Empire director Dan Edelstyn discovers a “treasure trove” of papers belonging to his grandmother Maroussia Zorokovich. Musician, writer and dancer Maroussia lived in the Ukraine during the Russian Revolution of 1917 and Dan finds himself inexorably drawn into her exciting world, full of romance and danger. The film re-creates this world through a mix of inventive animation, archive footage, re-enactments and voice-overs reading Maroussia’s beautiful prose. The use of a monochrome palette with occasional flashes of red to indicate the terror of the Bolshevik Revolution is very evocative.
However, this is not a heavy or oppressive documentary. For one thing, Maroussia’s writing carries a strand of optimism, whether she is touring as a dancer to keep up the morale of the White Army or getting married while survival to the next day is uncertain.
The other thing that keeps the film from being yet-another-history-documentary is the “vodka” twist. Journeying back to the Ukraine to trace his ancestry, Edelstyn discovers a vodka factory which once belonged to his great-grandfather. The factory is located in a dead-end Ukrainian village where unemployment and alcoholism are rife. What does Dan do? He decides to resurrect the Zorokovich Vodka Empire and feed the profits back into regenerating the village. And so we simultaneously follow him on a journey not only into the past but also into the business of professional vodka importing. Interspersed with momentous events in Dan’s personal life, self-confessedly low budget and home-spun, the film gives you a warm feeling similar to downing a shot or two of the famous Zorokovich vodka. You cannot help hoping that the enterprise succeeds and that Edelstyn will be able to make some difference to the lives of the inhabitants of his adopted Ukranian village