The Toronto Jewish Film Festival is, without a doubt, a premiere place to go to back in time with characters, filmmakers and producers, and explore significant historical moments with both intellectual and emotional depth. The narrative for Jewish film consistently centres around the idea of revisiting and rediscovering, which also suits my personal taste. Sometimes, there’s nothing better than getting lost inside an entirely different epoch for an hour or so on your couch – its architecture, landscape, food, music – and still getting the sense that everything is faintly familiar.
This is why I approached How to Re-Establish a Vodka Empire with such excitement: he goes back to his grandmother’s Ukrainian village, to discover that his powerhouse family owned both a vodka plant and sugar factory? How is he going to deal with the ethical and legal issues that will arise? How does this change his identity and understanding of where he comes from? Will he decide to continue the legacy? Of course, you’re hooked. It’s a cool story with a tongue-in-cheek title. British director Daniel Edelstyn is funny from the get-go, and his partner Hilary’s camera work, affecting persona and her beautiful re-enactments in sepia of grandmother Maroussia Zorokovich make them a likeable pair.
Unfortunately, after a certain point, Daniel’s quest to find a partner to aid in the export of the vodka to the UK – even though we’re rooting for him – becomes a little tiring and predictable. Certainly the couple’s personal story of having a baby is heartfelt, and if Daniel had focused more on that it wouldn’t have been such a bad idea. But something seems to slow down just after the halfway point. Daniel’s antics get in the way of an otherwise endearing showman, and I started wondering if he’s perhaps just manipulating his background for marketing purposes. You do, however, rejoice with them when they have a party to celebrate the success of the vodka business and to thank all the friends who supported this endeavour. Its a fun ride, quite amusing and educational in parts, but might have benefited from a slightly tighter narrative to keep this viewer gripped after the hour mark.
How to Re-Establish a Vodka Empire (2011, running 74 mins) screens this afternoon at 4:00 p.m. at the Sheppard Grande, and on May 13 at 4:30 p.m. at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema. For the full TJFF schedule, visit tjff.com.