Rafal Zielinski

A Sundance Award Winning Film Director & Media Entrepreneur.

Old Days Rebel – New Days Visionary

Futuristic Timeless Misfit. Lecturer, Teacher, Mentor, Curator.


FilmArtPlanet (US)

Peculiar Objective (Canada)

FilmArtMovies (Watch Now)

With a new film: Tiger Within playing in selected theaters currently, and an exciting slate of new projects in Canada, the US and internationally – (Exclusive Interview).

Rafal Zielinski has directed close to 30 feature films (some which he also produced), ranging from award-winning independent films (where his heart truly lies) to more mainstream Hollywood projects and television.

Born in Poland, his early years were spent in Eastern Europe. Before the age of 15, he was fortunate to travel several times around the world and gain a global perspective, an 8mm camera always at his eye.

His dad, an internationally renowned engineer, “father of pre-fabrication” was stationed for one year in Cairo, Egypt and five years in Calcutta, India, where through the non-profit Ford Foundation, he championed sustainable low cost housing projects for victims of poverty, famine, war, natural disasters and political strife. He build thousands of pre-fabricated dwellings and shelters in the hope of improving people’s lives in India and several surrounding countries, including Nepal.


Rafal was schooled in North America, the Middle East and the Orient.

During high-school, with the participation of the Ford Foundation, he was able to attend Stowe School in England. where he received the Duke of Edinburgh Award, enabling him to make his first documentary film “One Day with Shiva” about the temples in southern India.

He focused his studies on Art and Sculpture, and was accepted into several prestigious Art Schools in London.

However he envisioned the future of art in technology, and applied to MIT, and to his surprise he was accepted, after presenting a manifesto of the how he saw computers (which were almost non-existent at the time) at the forefront of a new revolutionary digital era, that would completely transform visual art, music, and media.

MIT was an alien environment for me, and the learning curve of coding, which involved punching cards, and booking time on a main-frame computer, that took up several stories of a building, but was equivalent to an iPhone model 1, in order to make an animation or a piece of music, was too overwhelming, so I took refuge in filmmaking and architecture.”

Rafal went on to graduate from M.I.T. with a Bachelor of Science in Art and Design focusing, on film, art and technology. The film department was chaired by Richard Leacock the pioneer known as the “father of cinéma-vérité documentary film-making.” Leacock, with D.A Pennebaker as partner, was known for some of the iconic documentaries of the 60’s about Jimmy Hendrix, Rolling Stones, John F Kennedy.

“Richard taught me how to “become invisible, like a fly-in the-wall, and capture reality and truth. ” These documentary techniques, I have always utilized in my directing of dramatic films, trying to capture stories with a truthful handheld style, bonding with the performers, allowing the actors freedom “to live”, be as natural as possible and “intimate” with the camera, without much directorial manipulation”

After MIT Rafal moved to Montreal, and continued film studies at Concordia University.

He won the Canadian Student Film Festival for Best FIlm, for “Vision House” a half-hour drama, followed by a feature documentary about the prison painter “Michel Pellus”, which was shown at festivals around the world, winning several top documentary awards.

He moved gradually towards drama, becoming more interested in story-telling

His first feature HEY BABE shot in Montreal with Telefilm and SODEC funding, opened the Taormina Film Festival in Italy and showed at TIFF Toronto, Montreal World Festival and AFI:Fest in Los Angeles, and received theatrical distribution in Canada and Showtime Cable in the US.

He came to the attention of Roger Corman “Pope of Pop Cinema”, “King of Cult”, who was looking for a Canadian director for a film he was producing in Toronto, inspired by the Ivan Reitman’s worldwide hit “Porky’s.”

The first thing Roger stated at our initial meeting was that “films need to have sex, humor and violence to be successful.” I was disturbed and embarrassed, being interested more in lofty projects and auteur-filmmaking – but because Roger produced the first films of Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, James Cameron, Ron Howard, Peter Bogdanovich, Joe Dante, Jack Nicholson, Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, (they were also given the same directive by Roger), I jumped at the occasion, and directed “Screwballs”, shot as a Canadian film in Toronto.

It was a major success, played in drive-ins across North America and theaters across the world. It was followed by “Loose Screws” (sequel), and “Recruits” (“Police Academy” clone) and “Screwball Hotel” (shot Miami). All four movies were shot within a span of two years. This led to several genre comedies for other producers. “State Park” and “Breaking all the Rules,” were two Canadian projects shot in Montreal, the rest in LA.

Making these movies was my film-school, in how to make low budget films, fast, efficiently and make them look like they cost ten times more”.

Rebels, Misfits, Outsiders – All Independent

Trying to regain his vision as a auteur filmmaker, and to recapture his soul, Rafal went back to personal projects.

As an independent filmmaker, Rafal has always generated his own projects either by creating an original story that he was passionate about then collaborating with several screenwriters or adapting works from the theatre in collaboration with the respective playwright. On most of the independent films that he directed he also served as his own producer often producing through his own company.

His latest feature is TIGER WITHIN (written by Gina Wendkos), an inspiring story about the relationship between a Holocaust survivor and a skinhead 14 year old girl. The film underwent as self-financed campaign for Best Picture and Best Actor (Ed Asner) in the recent Academy Awards race, and has premiered at close to 50 festivals in the Jewish FIlm Festival circuit, due to its inspiring message of forgiveness, and Holocaust theme, and was picked up my Menesha Films, for a theatrical run slated for this year.

His first feature HEY BABE opened the Taormina Film Festival and showed at Toronto, Montreal and AFI Film Festival.

FUN premiered at the Sundance Film Festival where it received two Special Jury Awards for Acting Achievement and went on to show at the Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver as well as other international film festivals including Sydney, Edinburgh, Munich, Vienna, London, Cambridge, Stockholm, Sao Paulo, Hawaii, Hamburg, Rimini, Mill Valley, San Jose, Warsaw, Oslo and Wales.  The Film opened theatrically at the Film Forum in New York and received two nominations for Best Newcomer Performance and Best First Screenplay for IFP Spirit Awards.

GINGER ALE AFTERNOON premiered in competition at the Sundance Film Festival and was picked up by Skouras Pictures for domestic theatrical release in the United States.

DOWNTOWN: a street tale, filmed in New York City, stars Genevieve Bujold,  Joey Dedio. And John Savage, recently received it’s world premiere at the AFI Film Festival.

His recent two indie films are BOHEMIA, a love story set in Prague starring Troy Garity (Fonda)  (“Bandits”, “Soldier’s Tale”,  “Barbershop”) and upcoming Czech star Klara Issova and AGE OF KALI, written by Los Angeles playwright John Steppling, as dark psychological  study of decadence and illumination set in Los Angeles.

In the mainstream arena he has directed numerous popular genre projects ranging from the highly successful Roger Corman financed “Screwballs” (which generated three sequels which Rafal directed as well), to Fox Searchlight’s Frank Peretti written “Hangman’s Curse” in which he gave Leighton Meester (“Gossip Girl”) her first starring role, as well as numerous TV shows such as “Highlander” and “Poltergeist”.


Rafal is currently developing and preparing several projects, including: 

ALIENS a large-scale science fiction romance

BARDO an illuminating story based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead

MIA a music film

Through his PECULIAR OBJECTIVE (Montreal based Production Co.) he is working on several Canadian Films to be shot in Montreal:

ECSTASY a young-love story

365:LOVE JOURNAL a micro-budget Polyvision format film

LE CIRQUE inspired by the birth of Le Cirque du Soleil.

Rafal’s dream since childhood has been to make films that can reach a wide international audience, that are both entertaining and illuminating while simultaneously provocative and consciousness expanding.


HEY BABE – Producer/Director/Writer – Carolco Pictures (Canadian)

A teen musical starring Buddy Hackett and Yasmine Bleeth. The film shot in Montreal premiered at the Filmex and Taormina Film Festival and was shown at the Montreal and Toronto Film Festivals. It was sold exclusively to Showtime in the U.S.

GINGER ALE AFTERNOON – Director/Producer – Skouras  Pictures (US)

A romantic comedy based on a play by Gina Wendkos, about one day in a trailer park couple’s life as they await the birth of their first child.  The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and received theatrical release through Skouras Pictures.

FUN – Producer/Director/Writer – Lions Gate (Canada)

A psychological drama inspired by true events about two young girls who meet one day and murder an old lady for “fun”. Through a series of interrogations with a prison psychiatrist and a magazine reporter the deep roots of child abuse and neglect that led to such a monstrous and senseless crime are uncovered. Winner of two Jury prizes at the Sundance Film Festival 1994 for best acting. Shown subsequently at over 25 international festivals. US and Canadian theatrical release.

HANGMAN’S CURSE (2005) Director – Twentieth Century Fox

A family mystery based on the Frank Peretti novel. Ralph Winter Productions/Namesake entertainment.


A tale of hope, triumph and inevitable tragedy about a group of twenty-something-year-olds living in an abandoned building in New York City, starring academy award nominee Genevieve Bujold, John Savage, Burt Young and Joey de Dio.

BOHEMIA – Producer/Director/Writer

A haunting love story set in Prague and Los Angeles, starring Troy Garity (“Soldier’s Tale”, “Barbershop”, “Bandits”) and Klara Issova (“Angel Exit”), Will Stewart (“Dogwalker”) and Jana Kolesarova.

AGE OF KALI – Producer/Director

A dark psychological study of decadence and illumination in contemporary Los Angeles, written by “LA’s quintessential” playwright John Steppling.

TIGER WITHIN – Producer/Director

The unlikely friendship between Samuel, an elderly, lonely Holocaust survivor and Casey, an angry teen runaway sex worker with a bad attitude and a swastika on her leather jacket, is the premise of “Tiger Within,” a redemptive story about the power of forgiveness and unconditional love to transform lives and overcome ignorance, fear and hate in our divided world. Ed Asner (91) and newcomer Margot Josefsohn (14) star in the absorbing micro-budget underdog,written by Gina Wendkos (“The Princess Diaries,” and “Coyote Ugly”).


Rafal took a detour in his career by directing a number of films for Roger Corman.
“It was my film-school working in the commercial for-profit underbelly of Hollywood, and taught me how to make films on micro-budgets and tight schedules, while trying to inject them with artistry if at all possible.
They were questionable stories and themes, and I felt shamed to have to sink so low, but some consider them now cult classics.
The were also a great foundation for making some of the no-budget indie films that established me as an art-house film-festival circuit indie filmmaker.” 


“As an outsider trying to break into the mainstream studio system, I got trapped into the world of b movies, but at least they paid the rent”.


“I focused on feature films, but occasionally was invited to direct episodes. I wish I had continued in this world, as it would have been an entry into the current renaissance of streaming and serialized entertainment”.

Rafal Zielinski – All Independent