At first, director Craig Dibiase was an outsider when it came to polka. After a lengthy discovery period and interviews, he has come to agree with all those smiling faces he's talked to: Polka is happiness. The last question he asked everyone was "What is polka?" And, "It's happiness" was almost always the respsonse.
"I would say 75 percent of the time that was the answer we got for people. That's kind of the feelings I get towards polka," Dibiase says. "I didn't grow up with polka; I went into the project as an outsider. But I can see why so many people answered the question that way."
Dibiase and his crew got involved with the Wisconsin polka circuit after filming a Pabst Blue Ribbon commercial at the prompting of a big polka supporter, John Pinter, formerly of the Polka Boosters.
"The premise of the commercial was a young gentleman waiting at a bus stop saw a sign for a party. He goes to party -- little does he know it's a polka party. There are 20 or 30 people polka dancing, young and old coming together for Pabst Blue Ribbon," Dibiase says. "One of the dancers came up to us afterwards and asked if we ever considered doing a movie about polka. We looked at him like he was nuts."
However, producer Timm Gable decided to meet with Pinter and see what the story was, since Pinter was pursuing the duo quite consistently for weeks after the commercial wrapped.
"We started meeting with different people, doing interviews without the camera and we were amazed all the stories we were hearing," Dibiase says.
He went to his first polka festival in February 2005 and says that everyone there was looking them over.
"We were the young people there. Everyone wanted to get us out and dancing," Dibiase says. "At a table next to us there were seven or eight women in their late 70s and 80s, and it was interesting how they reverted to middle school, giggling amongst one another. They dragged us out to dance floor and we learned to polka to first time out. (Everything) developed from there."
"It's Happiness" was filmed from March through October 2005, but the final cut wasn't in the can until February 2006. The crew had to whittle down 120 hours worth of footage down to the final 90-minute film.
Dibiase says that the main point of the film is to show that although the polka culture is growing older, there are younger folks that are keeping the tradition going.
"We went to the Green Bay Pulaski Days and were shocked. We were only going to go for a couple hours and ended up staying there through Sunday afternoon," he says. "We were shocked by the thousands and thousands of young kids polka dancing on a Friday night. Instead of going to movies they go to polka."
The movie follows three main characters: Greg Drust, who owns 500,000 records --mostly polka; Alt Altenburg, who owns Milwaukee's famous Art Altenburg's Concertina Bar, a polka hotspot, and Pinter.
"He was the person that was saying, 'Go interview Greg and Alt' and as it developed John became main character," Dibiase says. "He was always there with us. He's passionate."
Through polka connections, Willie Nelson also makes an appearance. Nelson got his start in his uncle's polka band and when he performed at Potawatomi Casino, the crew got a chance to interview him on his bus before he went onstage.
Dibiase says the experience is one he won't forget and polka is now a part of his life.
"I actually talk with John Pinter three or four times a week," he says. "I feel like I have over 80 grandparents now and I try to stay in the loop."
And, he says, he'll make a habit of attending at least one polka festival yearly.
Although there are people who proclaim polka a dying art, Dibiase says that the response the movie has received from college students and others under 25, suggests that the music will live on.
"It's definitely a survivor from what I've seen. There will be one of these polka bands taking a risk and mixing rock or country with polka," he says. "I think a song will come out and push polka back into the mainstream a bit. Things cycle, like swing music a couple years back."
Originally from Des Plaines, Ill., Heather moved to Milwaukee to earn a B.A. in journalism from Marquette University. With a tongue-twisting last name like Leszczewicz, it's best to go into a career where people don't need to say your name often.
However, she's still sticking to some of her Illinoisan ways (she won't reform when it comes to things like pop, water fountain or ATM), though she's grown to enjoy her time in the Brew City.
Although her journalism career is still budding, Heather has had the chance for some once-in-a-lifetime interviews with celebrities like actor Vince Vaughn and actress Charlize Theron, director Cameron Crowe and singers Ben Kweller and Isaac Hanson of '90s brother boy band Hanson.
Heather's a self-proclaimed workaholic but loves her entertainment. She's a real television and movie fanatic, book nerd, music junkie, coffee addict and pop culture aficionado.