As if a day filled with polka dancing, family fun and live entertainment wasn’t enough, those who were thinking about heading out to the National Polka Festival in Ennis during Memorial Day Weekend have yet another reason to attend.
The crew of “It’s Happiness,” an award-winning documentary about polka, will be making a trip to the Lone Star State to show the film. A best documentary winner at various film festivals across the Midwest, the Stun Productions film was produced and directed by Pittsburgh, Penn., native Craig DiBiase, who oddly enough isn’t of Czech heritage.
DiBiase and business partner Timm Gable, whom he met while attending the University of Miami at Ohio, started Stun Productions and stumbled across the fascinating culture of polka while filming a Pabst Blue Ribbon commercial in Wisconsin.
“The premise of the commercial was a young gentleman waiting at a bus stop who saw a sign for a party,” DiBiase recalled. “He goes to the party, not knowing it’s a polka party. There are 20 or 30 people polka dancing, young and old coming together for Pabst Blue Ribbon.
“One of the dancers came up to us afterwards and asked if we ever considered doing a movie about polka,” he said.
DiBiase could honestly say it hadn’t come across his mind, and never in a million years would he have thought he would find himself doing a documentary over polka - but the world of polka had other plans for him.
“I live in New York and didn’t know too much about the polka culture at the time, and my business partner didn’t know much either,” he said.
But after conversing with various people who were involved with polka, DiBiase and Gable were captivated at what the world of polka had to offer and being a novice in the field, DiBiase was eager to find out more about what exactly polka was. From there, what started off as a curiosity turned into an acclaimed documentary.
With the help of John Pinter, a former member of the Polka Boosters and a dancer in the commercial, the duo of DiBiase and Gable traveled across Wisconsin finding out what drew people to the culture of polka.
“We went to festivals and just talked to different people,” DiBiase said. “We found out so many interesting stories, so we went back to New York to raise some money for the documentary. We then went back to Wisconsin and started shooting the festivals.”
An eight-month process, DiBiase would sit down and interview with different people who became his main characters during the week. Then on the weekends, DiBiase would head out to the festivals and capture footage of not only the dancing, but the entire atmosphere of polka.
DiBiase said he learned that with the “polka generation” dying out, it is up to younger people to continue on the rich tradition of polka.
“For me, I am 25 years old, so I had the stereotype that it is for older people,” DiBiase said. “The point we are trying to make in this film is that there is a young generation of people trying to carry on this culture. The most satisfaction I get is when an older person comes up to me and says thank you for helping us carry this tradition on. It is comforting for them to see younger people out there carrying out the music.”
When DiBiase visited the Green Bay Pulaski Days festival in Wisconsin, he was shocked at the turnout of young people. With more than 30,000 people under the age of 25 in attendance dancing to polka on a Friday night instead of going to a movie or the mall, he now believes that the polka culture can survive, but it is having to be altered slightly to bring in the younger generation. Bands such as Lynnmarie and the Box Hounds mixes polka with country and rock and roll giving polka a new twist.
Not only did “It’s Happiness,” open up DiBiase’s eyes to something he would have never imagined falling in love with, but it opened up companies’ eyes across the country, creating more job opportunities for himself and Gable.
“We originally thought we were just going to do commercials,” DiBiase said. “The documentary has really helped with our company. We have done very well at some of the film festivals, so we have built up some credibility not only in Wisconsin but to all over places we would never imagine.”
In the end, DiBiase hopes his film can spread the word about how polka is more than just dressing up in suspenders and a hat and dancing to an accordion - it’s happiness.