A manuscript in a suitcase lead me to my great-grandfather's vodka factory in deepest Ukraine. The village in which it stands is in post-perestroika desperation, industry has been dismantled, unemployment rife. The vision is to connect the village to a global vodka market, thereby restoring prosperity and re-establishing relations.
The project How to Re-Establish a Vodka Empire combines two separate entities. It starts with the film How to Re-Establish a Vodka Empire which tells the story of a wealthy Ukrainian Jewish family torn apart by some of the cataclysmic events of early and mid-Twentieth Century history; in particular the Russian Revolution, Second World War and the holocaust. The story opens when film-maker Dan Edelstyn discovers and subsequently becomes obsessed with the writings of his grandmother Maroussia Zorokovich - writings which ultimately take Dan back to Ukraine in search of the family estate which had been seized by the Bolsheviks in 1917. With the discovery of the former estate of his ancestors (now an impoverished village) a new idea begins to form in Dan’s mind – why not use the high quality spirit being produced in his great-grandfather’s distillery to found a new brand of vodka? If successful, this entrepreneurial manoeuvre will effect positive social change within the village and ultimately in the region, providing jobs and investment to the village. Dan’s personal journey to reconnect with his Jewish Ukrainian routes coalesces with a mission to try and connect a village which has been all but abandoned to its bleak post-perestroika fate to a robust and healthy international spirits market. The idea is born from the villagers themselves who welcomed Dan as the great-grandson of Ilya Zorokovich with open arms, imploring him to open up the wasted sugar factory at the other end of the village and give them all jobs again. At this stage we have two entities – both inextricably linked; on the one hand the film How to Re-Establish a Vodka Empire – charting Dan’s progress with the project alongside his journey into a turbulent history of Ukraine and Europe, and on the other the establishment of The Zorokovich Vodka Company Ltd – and the associated activities getting a company off the ground. The film – with its themes of migration, cultural identity and integration – is an extension of the activities of Optimistic Immigrants – a series of musical and performance events staged by Optimistic Productions.