VARIETY reviews “Zielinski”

by John Anderson – Feb 1, 2011

Both a profile and a provocation, “Zielinski” is also a dream match of style and subject, blending the low-budget, crazy-quilt filmmaking of Chase Thompson and Ryan Walker with conspiracy-theorist extraordinaire John M. Zielinski, whose portrait seems perfectly framed by the pic’s fractured assembly. Disturbing and unresolved, the docu would nevertheless make a fascinating hour of television.

Thompson and Walker take no clear stand on Zielinski’s allegations of CIA-sanctioned drug running and pedophilia, resulting in the disappearances of hundreds of thousands of children in the United States yearly. Still, the blood-red titles certainly set a tone: “Not since the Kennedy assassination has there been such a cover-up involving child slavery, drugs and murder!” There is no narration, only Zielinski speaking in various venues: cable-access TV, Missouri City Council meetings and the U. of Iowa newspaper offices, where he is almost forcibly ejected. The clear suggestion is that the door to Zielinski Land is off its hinges.

But as Thompson and Walker show — via footage largely lifted from various broadcast media, from what often looks like copies of copies of copies — there’s more to Zielinski than the eerie calm with which he delivers pronouncements of unspeakable horror. At one time, he was a journalist and world-class photographer whose pictures appeared in books, Life magazine and the New York Times; his impromptu portrait of Martin Luther King Jr. is one of the better shots of the man ever taken. He published books about the Amish and Iowa (where, the pic claims, he is the “most blacklisted author” in the history of the state). No one attempts any amateur psychoanalysis of the subject, but Zielinski is not a raving lunatic. At the same time, he has no evident proof for anything he claims. The result is a movie about cognitive dissonance, and it’s contagious.

As Zielinski’s son Zane, a lawyer, explains to the camera (and to his father), the elder man lost a contract suit in 1984, and the implication is that the defeat led to his current condition. If this had been better explained, the film would have delivered a clearer sense of where facts and fiction part company, but that isn’t really Thompson and Walker’s intent. The directors intend merely to capture Zielinski’s troubled state of mind, and that they have accomplished

Production values are terrible.