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A Peek at Speckman


Mark Speckman


Sunday, August 14, 2011

When the first pulsing minor notes of the locally made documentary “Zielinski” ushered in clips of the oft-controversial and eponymous central figure of the movie, viewers at True/False Film Fest might have been lulled into thinking synthesized sounds were everything composer Mark Speckman was about. The gloomy and rhythmic bloops of “electronic music” — Speckman’s term — set up the tone of the film with a pounding aura of mystery.

But film viewers might have missed the strains of glittering piano that wound throughout later scenes of the movie in song snippets like “candlelight lounge,” grazing the ears with enough musical propensity to hold their own on the soundtrack. The soundtrack itself has a wide spectrum of grooves, droning tones that aren’t quite notes, woozy chordings and kit sounds that anchor more upbeat, danceable tracks such as “Raven Adara” and “ladeda.” The latter includes some of the vividly kaleidoscopic runs typical of The Who, as well as some carefully placed loops of laughter.

Speckman’s music is nothing if not exploratory. Having gone through periods of relative composer’s block and contrasting times of great prolificacy, he sees music vaulting into his future to take a more primary role. Born in Eugene, Ore., before his family moved to Columbia, he studied piano and percussion while growing up. Later on, in high school, he was introduced to electronic sounds, “but it wasn’t very good,” Speckman said with a laugh.

“The first techno song I ever saw was Daft Punk’s ‘Around the World’ on MTV,” he said. “It blew my mind.” In 2001, he obtained a copy of the software program Reason from a friend, which allowed Speckman to begin recording his songs almost completely on the computer. There were a few years in which he varied in the amount of other music he imbibed: “I don’t buy music. … I think when I was first getting into electronic music, I would go … and I would just buy whatever looked good without listening to it. And so I listened to all sorts of different styles.”

But while working more intensely on his own work, he didn’t listen to other music nearly at all. “I was pretty insulated, and I felt like that was making it original. But I also felt like there were periods that I missed of techno styles” during the 2000s. Speckman loves synthesized music for the range of expression it can contain even without using actual tonal notes. He makes liberal use of filters and even orchestral sampling in his music; he also loops external sounds into certain pieces, including children laughing and whale sounds in the track “xmasnwhales.”

Early problems hindered putting the “Zielinski” soundtrack together quickly. He has suffered multiple setbacks, including breaking his speakers, injuring his finger and blowing out his eardrums. “The last day before my deadline, I realized that I couldn’t hear a specific range,” he said. “There’s probably a whole register I’m still missing.”

But during times of health and physical recovery, Speckman could become incredibly invigorated. “It’s like an emotional inspiration,” which is often the pilot light for his creativity. He doesn’t know whether his music is so much catharsis as it is the working out of various obsessions, he added.

When Chase Thompson and Ryan Walker, the directors of “Zielinski,” approached Speckman about making music for the film, he agreed. But a long time — about four years — passed in between that first inquiry and the actual coming together of the film. During that time, he composed many songs, which he simply needed to go back to touch up and master. Thompson and Walker picked musical cuts for the film based on the mood of each song, focusing on particular tracks with more laid-back feels and aspects of melancholia.

Having produced three CDs and working on his fourth album, “Purple Starship” — as well as maintaining his website, — Speckman said he is thinking of expanding his repertoire even further into more house and trance music that can be sampled easily in more venues. He already has sung on a few of his own tracks and is planning an album of piano songs, a throwback to his childhood days of formal training. “Ten years ago, … I started playing piano again, and it dawned on me that I could make my own music.” No one had really informed him of that possibility as a child. “So there’s a lot of pent-up creativity,” he finished.

That creativity has flamed forth at varying degrees of brightness throughout the past decade, which, for the viewers of “Zielinski” and fans of Speckman’s music, has been a fortuitous result, indeed.

Reach Jill Renae Hicks at 573-815-1714 or e-mail

This article was published on page C3 of the Sunday, August 14, 2011 edition of The Columbia Daily Tribune.
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As Seen in The Epoch Times

True/False Film Festival in Missouri

by Sheila O’Connor
Published on May 29, 2011
The Epoch Times (New York)

Love travel and love documentary films? Then don’t miss out on a trip to Columbia, Missouri in March.That’s because you can enjoy the True/False film festival at that time each year. And it’s well worth seeing.

If you thought Columbia, Missouri was just a college town, then it’s time to be pleasantly surprised. So what’s there? Just ask Christina Kelley, the store owner of Makes Scents in the town.

“People come here to see an amazing array of world-class documentaries at the True/False film festival. The atmosphere they are shown in takes the festival to a whole other level. There’s a great downtown with shopping and eating and that enhances the whole experience,” she says.  (Note that the perfume store, Makes Scents, is a “good place for people who don’t like perfume,” says Kelley.)

And I can vouch for it being a great experience.  I was at the True/False Film festival in March in Columbia, and it was an exciting and eye-opening event. There are movies to meet just about every interest and taste (but note it’s not suitable for young children so best to leave them with a sitter.)

Beth Mead, the Tourism Marketing Manager at the Columbia CVB says, “People can see carefully-selected documentary films that they can’t see outside of the Sundance Festival.  This is a walkable, enjoyable film festival, complete with music, parties and a fun game show,” she says.


Here’s what some of the movies we saw (out of an available 43) were about:

The Project Nim (the baby chimp who was taught to learn sign language as a way of communicating with humans, until he became too aggressive to handle and attacked his trainers at around age 5).

Page One of the New York Times and what it takes to get a front page story published there.

The Interrupters (a real-life group of people who try to prevent violence on their city’s streets by interrupting altercations that are about to happen);

Zielinski, about a brilliant photographer whose works on the Amish became famous worldwide;

The Burger and the King (about the diet that Elvis Presley was on and why he chose those comfort foods—did you know that as a young boy his family was so poor they had to eat squirrel? It was in part his diet, along with other things eventually killed the king).

And finally the favorite of this writer:

The story Donor Unknown (aka Secret Screening White because the movie wasn’t yet officially out), who was a sperm donor back in the day and who actually fathered 15 children that he didn’t know about.

Read the whole article

Sheila O’Connor is a writer based in San Francisco who writes on a variety of topics, including travel. When Sheila is not off traveling the world, she is at home with her husband and three children.

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On Demand

Friends, ZIELINSKI is now available to view on demand.

Download ZIELINSKI for $9.99
Stream ZIELINSKI for $2.99 (4 day rental)

Visit our filmDIY page or click below to watch now.

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Winner – Best Political Documentary

Flew to Pennsylvania with my family for the 4th Philadelphia Independent Film Festival. Stayed in a hotel at 13th & Race. Walked through the neighborhood for some hot Mexican food. Taxi to the Franklin Institute to see Virtual JFK in an IMAX theater. Saw the massive Benjamin Franklin National Memorial.

Walked around Independence National Historical Park in the heat. Did an interview with Rich Gardner at The Bourse. Stopped by Media Bureau and chatted with Benjamin for a while. Met up with my aunt and uncle (who live in Lancaster, PA) for a delicious Italian dinner. Talked baseball with my dad and uncle. Fell in love with decaf coffee.

Took a Big Bus tour of the city = Philadelphia is amazing. Got lost in the Reading Terminal Market. Screened ZIELINSKI at Media Bureau. Cab ride to Penn’s Landing, which was popping on a Saturday night in June. Found a place to eat, which turned out to be a sports bar, which turned into a karaoke bar during our meal. Guinness, oh sweet pint of Guinness.

Took a subway ride with my dad to Citizens Bank Park to see the Phillies vs. Athletics. Roy Halladay pitched a brilliant game and the Phillies won. Met back up with the ladies and took a taxi to Fishtown for a killer meal at Kraftwork. Oliver Stone’s JFK was on TV. Back to Penn’s Landing for old school ice cream at The Franklin Fountain.

One Week Later
Received our first award for ZIELINSKI:
Thank you to Benjamin and the whole PIFF crew!

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New Ball Game

The latest email from John Zielinski.

Subject:  New Ball Game

It seems I might get immediate low rent house.  Info on Gunderson indicates more and more people coming down against CIA child kidnapping, drug network.  Time to start talking to colleges around Missouri along with the film.  Are you guys ready for this.  Time for the CIA directed and protected government to fall and be replaced by a renewed Constitutional Govern.  Look at Ron Paul running for President once again, saying no more Congress and running against CIA drug trafficking network.

I told you my time has come again.  More and more there are those who are listening.  I am here at the library in Trenton and the Librarians is ready for the books and tapes.  It is time to march against the corruption that is Washington.  I am address you from this old site because my computer here refuses to let me on the other one.  No one here can figure out why.  Remember I told you for years Ted Gunderson’s web sites were routinely knock off the internet.  I will send money and get tapes so that we can present the truth, but I will come back and begin with the school systems in Columbia.  This corrupt CI A directed and controlled government must be swept aside to be replaced by a legitimate one.
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Philly IMC Story

Yesterday I spoke with Rich Gardner of the Philadelphia Independent Media Center. We met up at the Bourse next to the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. He turned this story around in a matter of hours. Thanks Rich!

Zielinski – A Film
[posted 24 june 2011]

Was John Zielinski crazy? That was the thought that occurred to Chase Thompson and Ryan Walker when Zielinski showed up at their public access studio in Columbia, Missouri. Zielinski showed up with a VHS camera and after telling them his tape was stuck inside, asked if they could help and then told that the tape would bring down the American government.

As Thompson and Walker work in public access TV, they listen to a number of cranks, politely, and then do what they can for those persons. So they sat down and listened to this latest one. But this “crank” was different and in the film “Zielinski,” we hear that the documentary “Conspiracy of Silence” was produced, but that Zielinski was pressured not to release it. Zielinski had produced a total of 25 books and was a world-class photographer (Zielinski himself gives us a detailed run-down on his career here), so it was far from clear that the fellow had a screw loose.

In its review, Variety sniffs that “Production values are terrible.” Walker agreed, but pointed out that Zielinski lives in a $100 trailer and while Walker and Thompson did what they could with Zielinski’s materials, they didn’t have much of a budget to work with.

While the filmmakers still feel that many of Zielinski’s assertions are pretty wild and “out there,” one of his major assertions was one that he started making 25 years ago, that children are being kidnapped and sold into slaves. Unfortunately, authorities have come around to the view that Zielinski’s charges are accurate and after about 20 years of people keeping their distance from Zielinski (“Stay away from the crazy man!”), his assertions on that score were vindicated.

The film “Zielinski” will show on Saturday, June 25 @ 7:15 pm at the Media Bureau at 725 North 4th St. Philadelphia, PA 19123.

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Quoted in the Trib

Residents supporting Columbia’s cinema scene

Sunday, June 12, 2011

It’s not New York, and it’s not Los Angeles, but Mid-Missouri denizens know the truth: Columbia is growing into a bustling film town in its own right.

With up-and-coming filmmakers making award-winning works — not to mention the presence of a superb indie theater and festivals that bring in national color — this town is a great place for those interested in catching a quality flick or creating one.

The True/False Film Festival is the best-known film event in Columbia. This year ticket sales surpassed 30,000 for the first time. After eight years, the festival continues to grow in scope and in size, drawing national and international filmmakers hoping to exhibit their thought-provoking, humorous and intimate documentary films.

“I think there is something about T/F woven deeply into the fabric of Columbia that plays out in all these small and subtle ways,” co-creator David Wilson said of the festival, which occurs annually in late February or early March.

The name True/False has meaning: Sometimes Wilson and festival co-creator Paul Sturtz and their team throw in a few hybrid documentaries to make the audience sit up even straighter and think even harder.

“The films are on the documentary continuum, from observational to staged,” Wilson noted in a recent Filmmaker magazine interview.

Another event gaining ground — a fall festival to balance out the T/F spring fling — is the Citizen Jane Film Festival, put on each year through Stephens College to celebrate the best and brightest in women’s filmmaking. Documentaries aren’t the only thing shown here; any genre of film is fair game — live-action fiction, nonfiction and even animation.

“Columbians understand the value of our film festival and that it not only makes Columbia a better place to live, but it’s also making Columbia a truly unique destination for others to come visit or even stay for a while,” said Citizen Jane co-director and Stephens College film and media chairwoman Kerri Yost.

The festival started as a women’s film series at Stephens College and grew to the point where the college decided to make it a full-weekend festival beginning in 2008.

The sense of community collaboration is one resource most local film volunteers and directors point to when citing the growth of film in the city.

“Film is supported here in ways it simply isn’t in other cities, particularly through sponsorship and volunteering,” Yost said.

Ragtag Cinema has shown limited-run independent films since its inception, with the community’s support.

Wilson pointed out that many local businesses, individuals, venues and filmmakers have been great avenues of support for True/False as well. In addition, local production companies Boxcar Productions and Pure Entertainment churn out local spots for television channels along with independent short films. The 2010 horror film “A Horrible Way to Die” was filmed this past year on location in Columbia.

“Columbians really want to be supportive of projects,” Wilson said. “If you come at something with the right ethos and good reasons, people get that and they want to pitch in.”

One resource helpful for local filmmakers is Columbia Access Television, or CAT. Award-winning Columbia documentarians Chase Thompson and Ryan Walker, who premiered their film “Zielinski” at three film festivals this year, point to CAT as what got them started.

“I felt like I was on the outside looking in until CAT opened the door,” Walker said. The channel offers low-cost access to channel time, training and equipment.

In addition, the presence of three colleges lends a critical and intellectual spirit to the craft of film here. Another locally produced documentary, “The Pruitt-Igoe Myth,” was created by Chad Freidrichs, who teaches filmmaking at Stephens College.

Reach Jill Renae Hicks at 573-815-1714 or e-mail

This article was published on page A21 of the Sunday, June 12, 2011 edition of The Columbia Daily Tribune.

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We are happy to announce that ZIELINSKI is an official selection of the 4th Annual
Philadelphia Independent Film Festival.

Saturday, June 25 @ 7:15 pm
Media Bureau

725 North 4th St.
Philadelphia, PA 19123

Looks like a really cool line-up of films!

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Cartoon Snowflakes

Flashback to the stunningly harsh Winter of 2010-11. By the middle of March we were so delirious that this absurd snowstorm only made us laugh. The biggest, fluffiest snowflakes I have ever seen. Our buddy Justin Brown was on hand with his snazzy new camera, so why not turn it into a photo shoot?

Watch the Video

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Review in The McDonough County Voice

We all know a man like Zielinski

By Patrick Stout
The McDonough County Voice
Posted May 13, 2011 @ 09:23 AM

John Zielinski was famous once. Through the efforts of former Macomb resident Ryan Walker, he may become famous again. “Zielinski,” a documentary by Walker and co-director Chase Thompson, was shown in Macomb on May 1.

An incredibly talented photographer, Zielinski’s work appeared in the 1960s and ’70s in Life magazine, the New York Times, and the Chicago Tribune. He is best-known for his photos of Amish families in Iowa and for an iconic photo that he took of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Walker and Thompson work at Columbia Access Television in Missouri, where Walker is program director. Zielinski literally showed up on their doorstep, using his background in journalism to host his own cable television series, kind of a “Wayne’s World” for conspiracy theorists.

Leaving the state of Iowa in anger and despair after losing the rights to his many books of photo essays in a contract dispute, Zielinski became a part of what some call the lunatic fringe. He became a crusader against human trafficking, drugs, and political corruption, and became an advocate for environmental responsibility.

In addition to his cable access show, Zielnski is a regular in the public comment portions of televised Columbia city council and school board meetings. Walker and Thompson took the vast archive of Zielinski’s video appearances, then shot personal interviews and family activities to also shed light on the man’s private life.

Thompson and Walker have chosen not to take sides in their presentation, leaving the audience to determine the state of Zelinski’s mind. Is he onto something, or is he over the edge?

In reviewing the documentary for Variety in February, critic John Anderson wrote: “The clear suggestion is that the door to Zielinski Land is off its hinges.”
Critic Alexis Hitt on the Internet site MOVE Movies in March offered a differing opinion: “Although Thompson and Walker never officially give their opinion on Zielinski’s claims, they show us that Zielinski is, in fact, not crazy.” Columbia Tribune critic Scott May took the middle ground: “Whether he strikes a chord or rubs you the wrong way, you won’t soon forget this fascinating character.”

For those who missed the Macomb showing, the documentary “Zielinski” may be ordered through Netflix or other Internet movie sources. Anyone who has ever wondered about perceived local cranks who show up on the streets with sandwich-board signs or appear on the televised city council sessions may gain a deeper understanding of their motivations by seeing this examination of the life of John Zielinski.

- Patrick Stout is a correspondent for The McDonough County Voice. He can be reached at

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