How To Re-Establish A Vodka Empire


Directed by Daniel Edelstyn, Club, QFT, Belfast, 75min

THE CLUE IS in the title. In 2006, London film-maker Dan Edelstyn discovered a dusty old manuscript in his mother’s attic: the memoirs of Edelstyn’s grandmother, Maroussia Zorokovich, which revealed her privileged upbringing in Ukraine and the loss of their land and flight to Belfast following the 1917 Russian Revolution.

Maroussia was a dancer, writer, painter and teacher (after Tolstoy) of peasant children. On relocation to Ulster, she found that her sympathies lay with the republican cause and soon converted to Catholicism while her husband cultivated ties with the other side.

On their own, such details might constitute a thrilling documentary narrative. But there’s more. Back in the day, the grand Zorokovich family estate included a distillery and, on an ancestral-themed holiday in 2008, Edelstyn became intrigued by the notion of creating, bottling and shipping Zorokovich 1917, a new vodka under the old family imprint.

How to Re-establish a Vodka Empire unfolds as a travelogue, a memoir, a historical recreation, and a detective story. Although we know that many of the director’s Jewish relatives disappeared during the second World War, he still has a wonderful mish-mash of mammies and cousins to call on. Slowly he pieces together a fascinating, chequered history.

But will blood ties be enough to persuade the current Ukrainian authorities to let him kick-start the old family still into action? The small, now ghostly village of Dubouviazovka – the original site of his great grandfather’s estate – certainly hopes so. The movie gets the rest of us onside.

Indeed, if Edelstyn’s new spirit proves half as palatable as this rough-hewn, heartfelt and feel- good adventure, we’ll all be singing down the pub.