EXCLUSIVE: Jack Black is set to produce and star in The Man Who Would Be Polka King. It is based on Joshua Brown and John Mikulak’s documentary of the same name, which follows the rise and fall of Jan Lewan, a Pennsylvania polka sensation who unwittingly brought a town to its knees in a Ponzi scheme. Maya Forbes and Wally Wolodarsky (Infinitely Polar Bear) write and direct the amazing true life story. Permut Presenations, Red Hour Films and Shivhans Pictures are beginning pre-production on the project ahead of a July start date.
Originally from Poland, Lewan – or Lewandowski as per his birth name- defected to Canada in the early 1970’s while performing with a Polish musical group, before settling in the U.S. where he became an American citizen by the mid-1980’s. In time, he went from playing small Polish clubs and churches at night- while also holding down a day job in a hotel- to setting up his own orchestra and moving on to play venues like the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City. He even landed a Grammy nomination.
As his fame grew, he would organise trips to still-Communist Poland for his fans. While there he would buy souvenirs at Soviet era prices and bring them back with him to America, where he would re-sell at market price in his newly-opened store, turning a major profit. To raise money to buy more souvenirs, he started offering unregistered promissory notes at guaranteed 12% interest. Events would begin to spiral out of his control following his wife’s ill-fated bid to win Mrs Pennsylvania led to accusations of vote tampering. With suspicion rising against him, his businesses began to suffer, compounded by a fatal tour bus crash that put paid to his music revenues for a while. He would eventually be declared bankrupt and sent to jail for fleecing millions of dollars from investors in multiple states. Fans were shocked when it was discovered that their hero had committed one of the largest (and possibly only) polka-related financial crimes in history.
David Permut and banner Permut Presentations produce alongside Black’s Electric Dynamite, Priyanka Mattoo, Ben Stiller’s Red Hour and Shivani Rawat’s ShivHans Pictures, which also finances. ShivHans Pictures recently enjoyed success with another true life story in Bryan Cranston-starrer Trumbo. Permut is also on a true life roll with Mel Gibson’s WW2 epic Hacksaw Ridge in post, and Will Ferrell-Josh Gad starrer Russ & Roger Go Beyond set to go into production shortly.
ICM Partners and WME Global packaged the film and will rep the rights.
Polka King is currently slated to start production this summer and is being produced by Permut, Stuart Cornfeld, Shivani Rawat, Monica Levinson and Priyanka Mattoo Permut Presentations’ VP Chris Mangano will exec produce.
Black is coming off back to back box office hits in Kung Fu Panda 3, which has grossed over $325 Million worldwide thus far, and Sony’s Goosebumps. He is repped by WME and lawyer Warren Dern. Maya Forbes and Wally Wolodarsky are repped by ICM Partners and Brillstein.