For regionally-based filmmaker John Mikulak, great stories and characters can be found anywhere. And one story that he found in Hazleton has taken him all the way to the premier independent film festival in the country – Sundance – and beyond.
That was the story of the rise and fall of polka impresario Jan Lewan. Mikulak captured it in his documentary “The Man Who Would Be Polka King,” which has been given a Hollywood makeover as “The Polka King,” and an A-list lead in Jack Black. The film premiered earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival and has recently been picked up for distribution by Netflix. Mikulak has a producer credit on the new film.
“I’m thrilled the film will be on Netflix,” Mikulak states. “The big question nowadays is will (a smaller film like this) get a theatrical release. Unless it’s a comic book movie, theatrical is never a guarantee. The fact is, streaming services like Netflix and Amazon are the big players now, and they are buying rights to premiere films exclusively.”
Mikulak and his filmmaking partner Joshua Brown were lucky enough to gain access to Lewan as his polka empire was crumbing, and the resultant documentary paints a complex but sympathetic portrait of the man. Having played the film festival circuit, it wasn’t long before the film attracted attention from Hollywood. Although Mikulak received a couple of inquiries about the rights to the story as they told it in the documentary, it was producer David Permut who finally was able to make the project a reality.
“David Permut came to us because he thinks real life is stranger than fiction,” Mikulak states.
Permut’s most recent film, the World War II drama “Hacksaw Ridge,” earned six Academy Award nominations.
“He’s doing these films based on real stories. ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ was something that took him 17 years to make. But this, relatively, was a short time, only three years from the time of him optioning it to when they were…