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Reel Conspiracy

Photographer John Zielinski’s stumbled upon a diabolical plot “bigger than the Kennedy assassination.” Or has he? Two Missouri filmmakers spent two years trying to find out.


via St. Louis Magazine – Posted January 2012

Ryan Walker & Chase Thompson. Photo by Justin Brown.

If John Zielinski—the subject of a new documentary that bears his name—stuck exclusively to photography, he might be regarded as one of the all-time greats. Take his 1967 shots of the Amish. The photographer traveled to their pastoral environment and blended into the Amish woodwork. In the process, he captured unguarded moments that existed outside of the horse-and-carriage stereotypes. Even a corncob is rendered with rustic splendor, brushed with just the right stroke of sunlight to bring out the puzzle of its multicolored kernels. Zielinski’s photo of Martin Luther King Jr. captures the pensive side of a man whose iconic images usually show him in the throes of passionate oration. Unsurprisingly, Zielinski easily sold his photographs to famous magazines like Life. But Zielinski is even larger than life.

“He made his living for 20 years with his photos and postcards,” says Ryan Walker, who co-directed the documentary Zielinski ( “If you go to Iowa now and ask people, a lot of them would remember his name and have his books in their house—but they would have no idea what he’s doing now.”

If the story of Zielinski stopped there, it would be the miniature legend of a talented photographer who deserved to be famous. But really, it’s a tale in which fact and fantasy are like clever identical twins, switching places at the whim of the viewer’s perspective. Zielinski, you see, isn’t merely a photojournalist; he’s an investigative reporter. And his namesake documentary depicts a man on an often-intrusive mission, knocking on the doors of public officials and barging in on press conferences—a man who alleges a giant cover-up, wherein criminals and public officials are not only in bed together, but also have the common dream of destroying him.

“He’s been telling the same story for 25 years,” says Walker, who, like his co-director Chase Thompson, lives in Columbia, Mo. “He draws on a lot of facts. But he draws a lot of conclusions that I don’t agree with at all.” Like its namesake’s ideas, Zielinski the movie has been years in the making. “We come from cable-access [TV],” explains Walker. “It started as just a little project.” In the early ’90s, Zielinski moved down from Iowa, presumably to find a new audience for his unconventional theories when his home state tired of them.

“He would come into the station trying to make programming, doing his thing, and bringing in his video. We were just around,” recalls Walker, “and kind of forced to listen to this guy.” Undoubtedly, the directors-to-be shared an incredulous glance or two as Zielinski went on about drug trafficking, underage sex rings, and secret societies of devil-worshippers, much of it, he alleged, reaching up to the Iowa state government—even the CIA. Walker was impressed—not so much by the theories, but by the theorizer. “I just thought this guy was such a character, with all his footage and books and photos. We were like, ‘Are you hearing this? Can you believe this guy?’ It just fell in our laps, pretty much.”

In the documentary, it’s hard to tell whether we’re watching paranoia personified or a man who’s done his homework. Zielinski claims that a printing company is behind a plot to discredit—even harm—him. It all began with a bitter court battle. In another scene, we watch him preparing horse-manure–compost tea in a yard full of junk. At one point, he discusses the time his hard drive fell off a shelf and into a bucket of water. Zielinski believes “something shifted” while he slept. When asked about why the bucket was there in the first place, he reveals that he had no running water. In a different clip, Zielinski recounts a fire that devastated his residence in the Ozarks, destroying files and irreplaceable negatives. It’s a pivotal point in the movie. Here was his opportunity to blame the conspirators, the people who, he believed, were out to silence him. But we get no conspiratorial fireworks, only Zielinski’s admission that he started the blaze himself—on accident.

Zielinski isn’t crazy—at least not completely. The film demonstrates that he has supporters and corroborators in high places, including the FBI (for whom, he claims, he once worked). It features news clips about busted crime rings and exposed conspiracies that are somehow connected to the ones he’s alleged. One of his disciples is the cameraman from his public-access show, who’s convinced there’s a plan by those in power for a new world order. And Zielinski’s references to President John F. Kennedy’s assassination betray an ironic self-awareness. A conspiracy theorist shouldn’t refer to other conspiracy theories. They should be taken one at a time, not thought of in terms of lineage. At times, the stuff in Zielinski is to be taken with a molecule of salt—at other moments, the claims seem almost plausible and supported. Zielinski appears to be rooted in truth, but at some juncture the “truth” resembles the point at which human hair transitions into extensions.

Zielinski isn’t exactly a family movie. Yet in some sense, it is. One of Zielinski’s sons, a lawyer, discusses his father’s plight in such disconnected terms that it’s not immediately clear they’re even related. The subtext seems to be, “Give it up, Dad.” A rather touching scene shows Zielinski visiting his other son, who’s autistic. He makes the drive regularly. In a way, the brethren can be viewed as representing the two sides of their controversial father—qualities that within Zielinski himself are blended like…well, horse-manure tea.

If there is one main criticism of Zielinski—which, incidentally, doesn’t pass judgment on its subject—it’s that it’s too short. By the time we begin sorting fact from fiction, the 66-minute movie is over. “There’s way more to the story,” promises Walker. “There’s a lot more material, and we shot the stuff so long ago.” Will there be a longer version with updates? “I’m tempted,” he admits. For now, he has an already–award-winning documentary to promote. He says that occasionally Zielinski himself will appear at the screenings. This is very unusual for the subject of a not-always-flattering documentary. (You’ll never see the Rolling Stones promoting Gimme Shelter.) But as befits his role as a photographer—the one he’s best at—Zielinski’s a colorful character who manages to convince us of at least one thing: Not everything in life is black-and-white.

$10. January 6 through 8, 7 p.m. Off Broadway, 3509 Lemp, 314-773-3363,

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Cornfed Film Fest article in The Voice

Two featured films to fit festival’s “Firsts” theme

The McDonough County Voice - Posted Mar 22, 2012 @ 11:12 AM

Macomb, Ill. –Two exciting new films will be part of the upcoming Cornfed Film Fest set for April 13-15 in Macomb.

In keeping with the festival’s theme of “A Festival of Firsts,” “Fever Year” and “Zielinski” are both first films by their filmmakers. Also, both are documentaries offering insights into two complex, but very different, men.

Cornfed Film Fest

“Fever Year,” a film by Xan Aranda, comes to west-central Illinois on a wave of interest that’s been growing throughout the country and now worldwide.

This “feature-length concert documentary film” presents a look into the creative process of acclaimed singer-songwriter Andrew Bird. Filmed during months of Bird’s most rigorous year of touring, the motion picture sees him cross the December finish line in his hometown of Chicago – feverish and on crutches from an onstage injury.

“Fever Year” features live performances at Milwaukee’s Pabst Theater (with collaborators Martin Dosh, Jeremy Ylvisaker, Michael Lewis and Annie Clark of St. Vincent) and is the first to capture Bird’s precarious multi-instrumental looping technique.

The film premiered at the Lincoln Center in New York as part of the prestigious New York Film Festival in October.

Since then it’s been well received at film festivals around the country, with several international premieres forthcoming. Described by the Film Society of Lincoln Center as “a cunning hybrid of documentary and concert film,” “Fever Year” will show at the Cornfed Film Fest at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Saturday, April 14.

“Zielinski” brings home the work of Macomb native Ryan Walker.

The first film of Walker and Chase Thompson, the documentary brings to the screen “the rise and fall of John Zielinski, the most blacklisted author in the history of Iowa.”

The genesis for the film is described as: “John Zielinski walked into Columbia Access Television holding a huge, muddy VHS camera. It was just the three of us. He said, ‘There’s a tape stuck in here that will bring down the U.S. government. Can you help me?’ This jarring first impression kick-started an investigation (that) went much deeper than expected.”

“Zielinski” premiered at the Slamdance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, in January 2011 and has been screened at multiple festivals throughout the country.

Described by Variety as “both a profile and a provocation,” this movie brings a portrait of a complex and unforgettable character to life. See “Zielinski” — and chat with filmmaker Ryan Walker — at the Cornfed Film Fest at 1 p.m. Saturday April 14.

Cornfed Film Fest is down-to-earth while providing a strong and healthy serving of films.
It nourishes with well-crafted film and engaging conversation and is made strong by the region’s enthusiasm for film.

The festival will bring first films by well-known directors of various genres as well as films that represent a “first” or innovation in filmmaking.

The festival is also dedicated to cultivating an audience for talented first-time filmmakers, both young adults and emerging professionals, and providing them with much-needed support and encouragement.

The festival brings to the region a broad range of movies that are not typically available on a large screen.

Festivals provide a unique viewing experience where people can watch a movie together and have an engaging dialogue.

Cornfed Film Fest brings a well-considered program to the community that builds appreciation and understanding of film as well as the field of filmmaking.

The festival will be a weekend long event beginning on Friday, April 13 with a welcoming reception and a screening of famous directors’ short films.

Saturday has a full schedule of firsts, beginning with student films and ending with full-length feature films.

The festival winds down with a Sunday brunch, awards and a family feature.

For more information on Cornfed Film Fest, go to or email Ticket sales will begin soon.

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John Makes Headlines

Columbia residents remember personal connections to Martin Luther King Jr.

Columbia residents share stories of Martin Luther King Jr. as a real man who touched their lives
MISSOURIAN –  Sunday, January 15, 2012 | 6:40 p.m. CST

Martin Luther King Jr. poses for a photograph before speaking at a rally near downtown Chicago on July 24, 1966.   ¦  PHOTO BY JOHN ZIELINSKI

COLUMBIA — As Columbia and the rest of the country take time Monday to reflect on the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., three Columbia residents shared their personal remembrances of the late civil rights leader.

George Farris

Related Media
  • Martin Luther King Jr. addresses a crowd of approximately 125 people in downtown Chicago on July 24, 1966.

Martin Luther King Jr. liked the greens they served at his parents’ table. That’s one thing George Farris, 86, remembers about King.

Farris’ brother, Isaac, married King’s sister, Christine. The two families would visit each other in Missouri and Atlanta. Once, King came to the Farris family farm in Eolia, and his mother cooked them a homegrown meal.

“They had regular greens that they raised in the garden and Kentucky Wonder Beans and peas. They had other food like potatoes fresh out of the garden,” Farris said.

They had dandelion greens, too, though they called it spinach. Farris said King really enjoyed the way his mother cooked, and King commented on the greens.

Farris said he often discussed issues of the day with King.

“He would just talk to me like a brother,” he said. “We’d sit down sometimes and talk maybe half an hour or an hour. He’d bring up something and I’d bring up something and he’d say, ‘Well you know why that is, don’t you?’”

Then King would give the historical or economic context for a certain social issue, Farris said.

King was down-to-earth, Farris said. “He didn’t act like he was any different than me.”

Farris respected King as a leader.

“He just wanted everybody to have a chance to give their expression,” Farris said. “Just because a person is a different color or different religion doesn’t mean you can mistreat them and think you’re right, because that’s not the way the Lord looks at it.”

John Zielinski

It was pure chance that John Zielinski came face-to-face with King that sweltering day in Chicago.

Zielinski is a professional photographer now living in Columbia. But on July 24, 1966, he was a college student with a summer job in Chicago who took his girlfriend’s 35mm Praktica camera to a shop downtown to find new lenses.

A police officer approached him on the street while he was taking pictures, Zielinski said, and warned him that King would be speaking later and there could be a riot, so he should stay away.

Instead, Zielinski said he went straight to the site of the rally.

The temperature was in the 90s. King, who looked exhausted, pulled up in a large truck with several other speakers, Zielinski said.

“I was impressed that as hot as it was, he was there in a black suit,” he said.

Just as a crowd of about 125 pressed toward the stage, a man moved his hands and parted the crowd like Moses.

“He split those people in two to let me take those photos,” Zielinski said.

Zielinski never thought he would get to see King except on TV. He stepped to the edge of the platform, about four to six feet away from King, and snapped a photo head-on.

“I had been there at an important moment in history,” he said.

When people look at the photos these days, Zielinski said, he hopes they come away with “a warm remembrance of the man.”

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Newcity Film Review

Review: Zielinski
by Ray Pride
Published 30 Nov 2011 in Newcity Film


“Pedophilia owns this nation!” Like a distressed thumbprint, “Zielinski” is a formal conniption. Decades before any “Occupy,” talented photographer John M. Zielinski, published in Life magazine and the New York Times, had studded his mind with hashtags referring to vast corridors of connections and collusion and conspiracy. Happening onto public-access cable television, Zielinski began to chronicle crusades against all manner of corruption, cover-ups and turpitude, imagined or real about human trafficking and other black crimes. Chase Thompson and Ryan Walker’s portrait of  ”the most blacklisted author in the history of Iowa,” a conspiracy theorist par excellence, the engagingly fractured, blackly comic “Zielinski” debuted at Slamdance 2011 and played the True/False documentary festival a few months later, in Columbia, Missouri, where Zielinski now lives. Its myth of madness keeps you wondering how much this now-old man is on the ball. 66m. Also: Jay Rosenblatt’s “The D Train” (5m).

[“Zielinski” plays 8pm Friday at Chicago Filmmakers. Co-director Walker and Zane L. Zielinski, Chicago attorney and son of John M. Zielinski will appear.]

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The Chicago Tribune’s take on ZiELiNSKi


written by Nina Metz
Chicago Closeup
November 30, 2011
Chicago Tribune

When charges against former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky first surfaced last month, many of us wondered how allegations of sexual abuse had gone uninvestigated for so long.

Filmmaker Ryan Walker had this to say about the subject on his blog not so long ago: “To those who have seen ‘Zielinski’” — Walker’s new documentary (made with partner Chase Thompson) about an obscure conspiracy theorist named John Zielinski — “this whole story sounds very familiar.”

For decades Zielinski has claimed that the CIA is running a child sex ring, among other crimes. Taken at face value, his wild stories of government-sanctioned pedophilia sound bonkers. “Not since the Kennedy assassination has there been such a coverup involving child slavery, drugs and murder!” reads the text from one of Zielinski’s ’80s-era video manifestoes included in the film. He also claims that there are injustices involving “CIA money laundering, mixed with North American Man Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) money, child prostitution, child slavery, satanism mingled with political figures, both state and federal.”

Zielinski’s story is a peculiar one, and the film paints an incomplete if fascinating picture. Not much is disclosed about his mental state during the first half of his life. A photojournalist based for many years in Iowa, Zielinski was on the road to a promising career in the 1960s and ’70s, getting his work published in Life magazine and the New York Times, as well as in the pages of the Tribune. During Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1966 trip to Chicago, Zielinski took a remarkable photo of the civil rights leader that hangs in Zane’s office.

A court case that Zielinski lost in the early 1980s (involving a dispute with his book printer) seems to be the fork in the road, but why this particular event knocked him off course remains unclear.

For the past 30 years he has been dismissed by pretty much everyone as nut case. Zielinski all but presented himself as a film subject two years ago when he wandered into a public access television station in Columbia, Mo., where Walker and Thompson were working. “We were the only ones there, and this guy walks in with a cruddy VHS camera that was covered in a wasp nest and he said: ‘I have a tape stuck in here that will bring down the U.S. government, I need your help!’” Zielinski made several return trips to the TV station, and the idea for the documentary was born.

“I had some concerns that they wouldn’t be empathetic,” Zane said. “I think they get maybe 60 or 70 percent right. There’s still huge holes (in the film) — there are so many funnier stories that I can tell that don’t make it in the movie.”

Zane was upbeat during our chat, but his demeanor belied a complicated family situation. “I was born in ’73; my parents got divorced in ’79 but they didn’t tell me until ’83.” He has an older brother with severe autism, and it is in these portions of the film that Zielinski seems most stable — a patient father with his son. Zane disagrees with how his father is portrayed (and is currently not on speaking terms with his mother, who he feels was untruthful in the film). He is also, in some ways, his father’s son — a touch eccentric (he calls his father John), and is eager to talk your ear off while remaining vague when comes to the nitty gritty. “As far as I know, he is still in Columbia,” he said when asked where his father lives these days.

“Zielinski” screens at 8 p.m. Friday at Chicago Filmmakers. Co-director Ryan Walker and Zielinski’s son Zane will be in attendance for a post-show Q&A. For more info go to


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Gaper’s Block interview

FILM  MON  NOV 28 2011
Interview: Ryan Walker
By Jordan Larson

A documentary about “the most blacklisted author in the history of Iowa,” Zielinski toes the line between black comedy, government conspiracy theory, and poignant portrait of the artist as an old man. The film’s directors, Ryan Walker and Chase Thompson, embarked upon the film after meeting John M. Zielinski in Columbia, Missouri. I caught up with Ryan to find out more about public access television, conspiracy’s funny side, and the man behind the rhetoric.


So how did you and Chase meet? And how did you get into public access television?

We met through music. We both used to be more into music than film, really, and we played in a couple bands together. He was making a show on public access that was really popular in Columbia, and he was kind of the first one to make local music videos, about five or six years ago. It was pretty popular, and I got involved with that, and we both started learning through CAT [Columbia Access Television] and working at CAT and being on the Board of Directors. Then I was full-time staff there for three years and he was the Board President, so we were really involved with that and still collaborating on things and giving each other feedback. Before public access, there really didn’t seem like there was any chance to make anything, let alone a film. I couldn’t afford a camera, couldn’t afford software, the door was closed completely. I was on the outside looking in. Public access really opened the door.

How did you get interested in Zielinski?

John Zielinski came in and tried to join [CAT]. Well, first, he walked in and was holding this big, muddy VHS camera and said, “there’s a tape in here that will bring down the U.S. government. Can you help me?” So that kinda made us laugh, and Chase helped get this tape unstuck from the camera, and it was actually Conspiracy of Silence, the tape that was stuck in there, and that finally made it into the film.

That’s how we met him, and he kept coming in, and he comes on really strong when you meet him, but since it’s public access we’re sort of forced to listen to him. And we got through the first few layers and sooner or later we’re just looking at each other like, are you listening to this guy? He’s really entertaining to listen to and he’s saying all these bizarre things and bringing in great photographs. There’s just so much great material there. So we set out to make just a short, five, ten-minute thing, but after a while realized there was much more to the story than we [initially] realized, so we went on to make a feature.

What are you hoping to achieve with the film?

We just wanted to share him. He wanted us to make an exposé on human trafficking and all this stuff, and he wanted it to be a real cause film, and that never really interested us. Although, those causes are important and they’re serious, but we were interested with him, and just thought he was a fascinating guy and really entertaining to watch. So we just tried to tell his story and we think there’s a lot of neat photos and neat videos that he brought in. To us, there’s a lot of funny scenes in it. There’s some serious stuff, but we laugh when we watch it. We hope that people see the humor and are interested by his story.

Why did you structure the film the way you did? The way you unfold the story isn’t entirely conventional.

Well, that was a long time in the making. That went through a lot of different structures. It took us a long time to really figure out what the facts were. So we eventually tried to do a chronological story just to make sense of it, and then we realized that wasn’t very dramatic. It wasn’t as interesting when it was all laid out one thing after the other. Eventually we decided to structure it the way we experienced it. It starts off really jarring, with John in your face, kinda shouting at you, and saying all these, I don’t know what you want to call them, conspiracies about human trafficking, and “pedophilia owns this nation,” and stuff like that.

So we keep peeling layers away and find out more and more about him, and there’s way more to him than that, even though that’s all he wants to talk about. So that’s want we finally decided on, to structure it the way that we found him.

What have audience and critical reactions been like so far?

Very positive. All the screenings we’ve had, people have been really engaged by it and we’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback. Some people want it to be more of a cause film. We package it as a conspiracy theory type of thing, but that was just the hook to get people interested. Some people want it to be more this or more that. We played at Flame Dance and True/False [film festivals], and probably 1500 people or so have seen it in screenings and we’ve gotten some positive reviews. A lot of the footage is old, we didn’t shoot it in HD, it’s not very gimmicky or anything like that. It’s not a glamorous film. I think it’s going to be a slow burn for people to catch on and build it by word of mouth. We’re happy with what it’s done so far. It’s done a lot better than we expected, really.

What did you learn from making the film? Is this going to lead to more filmmaking?

Well, we kind of started from scratch. Coming from public access, we didn’t go to film school, we just kind of figured this stuff out on the fly. You can even watch the technique evolve as the film goes on. A lot of the early interviews are pretty crude. We really came from nowhere to make the movie we made. And it goes back four years, when we started making it. So now it’s really going from no knowledge at all to now we’re starting new projects and using better equipment and going through the process of editing we learned so much about how to structure a film and made so many mistakes that we’re starting our next project in a totally different place. We’re both starting new documentaries. I’m making one actually set in Western Illinois, called The Bootlegger, and Chase is working on several projects. So we’re gonna keep going on.

Zielinski will be screened at Chicago Filmmakers, 5243 N. Clark St., Friday, Dec. 2 at 8pm. For more information about the film, click here.


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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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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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