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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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Going International!

OCTOBER 24th-29th
We’ve been trying and trying to get our film screened abroad. See our bananas page for proof. We found refuge in Hamburg. The more I read about this festival the more intrigued I become. I think ZiELiNSKi will be a great fit for this year’s line up. Thank you, RADAR, for selecting our film! If anyone knows somebody that lives in Hamburg, and wouldn’t mind a couple of well-mannered dudes sleeping on their couch for a couple of days, please let us know. We are currently working on a new trailer just for the event, so stay tuned. Also, our brand new DVDs should arrive in the next 2 weeks. There are only 100 for now so email us if you would like to reserve a copy. We’ll keep you posted on screening times and dates as they come to us from Germany.

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Hey Bellingham!

We are pleased to inform you that ZiELiNSKi will be screening on Friday, October 7th at 8:00 pm as part of Pickford Film Center’s DOCTOBER.

In 2006, Pickford Film Center joined forces with True/False Film Festival, in Columbia, Missouri, to produce True/False West Film Festival, which won a 2007 Mayor’s Arts Award, and shocked Bellingham with over 25 films in three days at several venues. While the festival was a success, festival politics made it untenable to continue as a Spring festival. From this festival, Doctober was born in 2007 in an effort to continue to bring great documentaries—and often guests—to Bellingham, and give our patrons a month to see as many as possible.

Tell ‘em James and Jesse sent ya’.

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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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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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Macomb Screenings Announced

Macomb native brings movie home

The McDonough County Voice
Posted Apr 24, 2011 @ 05:15 AM

Macomb, IL – Macomb native Ryan Walker will return home in May with his recently-completed documentary.

Walker, a 1997 graduate of Macomb High School, worked with Chase Thompson on the feature film “Zielinski.” The film will be shown twice on May 1 at the MidAmerica National Bank Conference Hall in the Spoon River College Community Outreach Center. The show times are 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. and Walker will host question and answer sessions after both screenings. Admission is $5

“I am thrilled to bring this film home to Macomb, where I receved so much creative encouragement over the years – from “Author of the Week” contests at Lincoln Elementary School to playing drums for Malted Milk Blues Band at the crowded Cafe,” Walker said. “I can still hear Mr. Murphy telling me ‘Too much crash cymbal….’ He was right.”

Walker attended Western Illinois University from 1998-2000 before transferring to the University of Missouri and graduating in 2003. He is the son of Ron and Leslie Walker, of Macomb.

“Zielinski” made its world premiere with two screenings at the 2011 Slamdance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. It was chosen from over 5,000 submissions.
Walker said the film has done well despite its $3,500 “shoestring” budget.

In March, the film was chosen for True/False, an international documentary film festival in Columbia, Mo. Nearly 1,000 people attended the four screenings.
In April the film screened at the AMC Kansas City Film Festival in the “Heartland Features” category.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Zielinski’s work appeared in “Life” magazine, the “New York Times” the “Chicago Tribune” among other publications. In a contract dispute, he lost $50,000 and professional credibility. Today Zielinski is described as the “most blacklisted author” in Iowa.

For 25 years he has dedicated his life to exposing human traffickers, pedophiles, drug dealers and Satanists.

The documentary film tells Zielinski’s story with 47 years of source material, new interviews and music by Mark Speckman.

The filmmakers began collaborating at Columbia Access Television, a non-profit organization in Columbia, Mo. Walker has produced over 150 programs for CAT and programmed over 2,500 as its program director.

In 2007, Zielinski was penniless and ran out of gas in Columbia, Mo. He soon found his way to CAT, where Thompson was working at the desk and Walker was editing a show. He carried in a muddy VHS camera and told the men, “There’s a tape stuck in here that will bring down the U.S. government. Can you help me?”

Walker said that started an investigation that led to the film’s production. To watch the film trailer, read the filmmakers’ blog or see photographs visit

Copyright 2011 McDonough County The Voice. Some rights reserved

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Ragtag Wrap-Up

Thanks to everyone who came out to our recent screenings at Ragtag Cinema! It was really cool to see so many friends checking out the film. My favorite Q&A was the one dominated by a few of John’s neighbors, who had awesome stories to share.

It was fun to see John Zielinski holding court at the gangster booth four nights in a row, selling enough prints to make his rent money (barely). His photo display is still up on the walls at Ragtag – check it out if you get the chance. Thanks to the Ragtag staff for making us feel at home.

Always a blast kicking it with composer Mark Speckman. If you haven’t checked out the ZIELINSKI soundtrack yet, do yourself a favor. Just dip a toe into Mark’s website and see how it feels.

If you missed the film, never fear. More screenings are on the way. Want to see ZIELINSKI in your town? Contact us!

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