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Cinequest Review: ‘Empire on Main Street’

In Culture
EMPIRE STATE OF MIND: Preceding the feature documentary 'Hermanos,' this short doc follows Crista Luedtke, a serial entrepreneur.

EMPIRE STATE OF MIND: Preceding the feature documentary 'Hermanos,' this short doc follows Crista Luedtke, a serial entrepreneur.

This movie could have been a tuchus-kisser, and to its great credit, it is not. Jessica Congdon wrote, co-produced and photographed this candid short documentary about the successful but controversial Guerneville businessperson Crista Luedtke. This second-generation restauranteur, a freckled Wisconsin-born lesbian with a rockabilly haircut, made ambitious renovation of several Russian River restaurants and entrepots—including the Big Bottom Market, the Revival at Applewood, and the Boon Hotel. Her work brought in money and out of towners as renowned as Oprah herself. (Our next president declared Luedtke’s biscuits the best she’d ever had.) Luedtke got some international note as a winner on the Top Chef show.

She’s obviously hands-on, all about the work and the vision. Yet Luedtke sometimes angered the locals who liked the funk and decay of Guerneville just as it was—count me as one.  She claims here that Guerneville was dying when she arrived, and that there’s been some ingratitude about the way her efforts have raised property values.  The problem with raising property values, though, is that not everyone has property…and the expansion of her businesses soon wore down her personal life. And then there’s the matter of how that splendid river tends to jump its banks and wash away people’s schemes.

Congdon is the co-editor and writer of one of 2017’s best, Dolores, about the activist Dolores Huerta. She has top-notch access, enough to hear the story of how Luedke’s marriage eroded under the strain of work. We see enough of the subject’s struggle that we don’t really believe it when Luedtke declares “I’m just not the most sensitive being.”  But the implications are bigger than just Luedtke, they go beyond another episode of that hot documentary subject, top-drawer cuisine–often it seems that the topic of restaurants is more interesting than the topic of cinema to many people. In a broader sense, this could be the story of the sacrifices and gambles of any kind of entrepreneur.

Empire on Main Street
Sat, Mar 3, 4:20pm and Mar 5 at 8:15, RWC | Mar 6 at 3:30 and Mar 10 at noon at 3B


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