TJFF 2012: ‘How to Re-Establish a Vodka Empire’ corporatizes a personal story

- Advertisement -

How to Re-Establish a Vodka Empire

Directed by Dan Edelstyn

UK, 2011

When Dan Edelstyn imported his first batch of the Ukrainian vodka, Zorokovich 1917, to Britain, he presented them to Ian Wisniewski, one of the country’s most “eminent and influential vodka experts”. After a careful tasting, Wisniewski deemed the spirit disappointing, and that competitive brands are “more interesting, more characterful”, and that they “have more body and weight on the palate.” A filmic foodie, with similarly discerning tastes and honesty, will find Edelstyn’s documentary, How to Re-Establish a Vodka Empire, very much the same.

When Edelstyn travels to the Ukraine to learn about the life of his mysterious grandmother, he uncovers the disrepaired remnants of his once family-owned vodka distillery. Determined to resurrect the village’s dilapidating economy and to tell his grandmother’s life of austerity and hardships, Edelstyn uses her story to rebrand the ailing spirit company and introduce it back home in London.

Director Dan Edelstyn’s Grandmother

Under the thin wrappings of the film’s bottleneck story contains an underlying political message awash with anti-Bolshevik and self-promotional sentiments.

When Edelstyn discovers that his grandmother was a part of the Russia’s Jewish bourgeois class, the film takes on her perspective of the Russian revolution; namely anti-red and pro-white. To call these written accounts of history ‘contentious’ is modest to say the least, but because they are not corroborated by academic or verified sources, the doubt becomes magnified.

At one point, Edelstyn himself points out that these stories are “short of factual details.” We have to take him at his word (or more accurately, his grandmother’s), and one’s ability to enjoy the consequent film relies heavily on one’s reticence to accept them at face value.

Whether or not these stories are true shouldn’t necessarily diminish the effectiveness of a film, but when disputable stories are used as the backbone of a documentary, and for a nepotistic marketing campaign, this causes a sort of ethical dilemma of authenticity. In short, the film posits a possible case of false advertising.

But for much of the film, Edelstyn dodges this potential hot topic and focuses, rather, on the creation and establishment of his newly founded namesake brand. As he travels between England and the Ukraine, he meets with possible distributors and investors along the way, using every opportunity to tell his grandmother’s life story.

This is problematic because Edelstyn literally corporatizes a personal story. As he incessantly ties her life with a product, her story becomes pecuniary, with its sole importance being for financial benefit. It becomes subservient to his entrepreneurial endeavors, thus becoming less significant and a touch banal. The ending tries to resolve this, but because it’s done with such a minimal amount of fanfare, compared to the rest of the film, it can feel entirely underwhelming.

This is so because the film offers sporadic moments of ingenuity and inventiveness. The most involving sequences of the film comes when his grandmother’s life is told through arts and craft recreations; interplaying stop-motion animation, green screen technology, archival film footage, and a surreal Vaudeville aesthetic. These parts are done so exceedingly well, they start to feel incongruous with the rest of the film, making its many imperfections stand out.

The film’s major draw is its interesting, if somewhat questionable, back-story and its creative cutaway storytelling devices. Edelstyn also does a good job with connecting his current experiences with his grandmother’s. But for all of its narrative appeal, this documentary plays out as a brazen act of self-promotion. While watching How to Re-Establish a Vodka Empire, it’s hard not to feel like you’re being sold to.

– Justin Li

Visit the official website for the TJFF

Add Comment

10 Different Types of Financial Aid
Top 10 Richest American Idols
V-Moda Crossfade Wireless
The 5 Most Expensive Wireless Headphones: Ultimate Auditory Clarity
Business man watching business go bankrupt
25 Iconic Companies that Filed for Bankruptcy
22 Different Types of TV Shows
A Saxophonist with a Saxophone in His Hands
12 Different Types of Saxophones
genre titles mash up
The 13 Types of Movies You Can Choose From (Genres)
Crowd enjoying a concert
19 Types of Entertainment – What Do You Like Doing?
6 Different Types of Cornbread (Plus Recipe and Storage Tips)
7 Different Types of Tortillas
15 Different Types of Mustard
23 Different Types of Peas (Plus Harvesting Tips)
17 Different Types of Trains
Several semi trucks on the highway
19 Different Types of Trucks – Do You Know Them All?
Airplane soaring through the air
19 Different Types of Airplanes that Dominate the Skies
Cars lined up on the road
26 Types of Cars You Can Choose From for Your Ride
15 Different Types of Goggles
13 Different Types of Dumbbells
15 Awesome Alternatives to Skateboards (Plus Interesting Facts)
Baseball player hitting ball
10 Types of Baseball Bats that Rip the Leather Off the Ball
16 Different Types of Technology
man holding smartphone with vintage case
11 Types of Cell Phone Cases and Covers to Protect Your Expensive Smartphone
Black and Red Tablet Covers
8 Types of Tablet Cases for Kids, Protection, and Convenience
Camera, lenses and other photography equipments.
45 of the Best Online Camera Stores for the Perfect Pics