The Polka King

Director: Maya Forbes
Screenwriters: Maya Forbes, Wally Wolodarsky

Institute History

  • 2017 Sundance Film Festival


This exuberant tragicomedy recounts the remarkable but true story of the rise and fall of Polish émigré Jan Lewan (Jack Black), from striving tchotchke shop owner in the ’70s to the undisputed “King of Pennsylvania Polka” in the early ’90s. Lewan pursued the American Dream by any means necessary, fleecing investors and bribing officials to build a personal musical empire in what became the world’s only known Polka Ponzi scheme. Swept up by Lewan’s charismatic charm are his devoted wife, Marla (Jenny Slate), and his neurotic sidekick, Mickey (Jason Schwartzman).

Co-writers and directors Maya Forbes and Wallace Wolodarsky, who previously teamed up for Infinitely Polar Bear (2014 Sundance Film Festival), infuse The Polka King with an infectious energy and fill the frame with kitschy period detail, taking us through two accordion-fueled decades of grift and glory. Throughout, producer/star Black breathes life into the eccentric Lewan, finding pathos beneath his cockeyed optimism and showbiz hustle.

— Matt Cornell

Screening Details

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