Q&A: 'Fantastic Lies' Director Marina Zenovich
Marina Zenovich learned what many in the lacrosse community already knew and felt: They just didn't want to talk about it, just wanted to move on.
Sunday marks the 10th anniversary of the infamous Duke lacrosse party that drew white-hot national media attention to the players, coaches and university and ended in three players being falsely accused of rape. "Fantastic Lies," an ESPN "30 for 30" production on the events of 2006, debuts at 9 p.m. Eastern.
We caught up with Zenovich, the director of the documentary who has previously chronicled filmmaker Roman Polanski and comedian Richard Pryor, to ask about what to expect from the film and the process of making it.
What were your first impressions as you started on this project?
The story was still alive for so many people involved in a way that you or I don't really understand. I'd go to one of my sources and say, "I just can't believe this. No one wants to talk to me." I'm trying to talk to the police in Durham. I'm trying to talk to Duke University. I'm trying to talk to lacrosse players. The accuser, the accused. Anyone. Across the board what I found was that people just wanted the story to go away. I called my local source and saying this is crazy. He would say that this is a toxic story and you had no idea what effect it had.
Who did you reach out to?
I wanted to hear from as many people as possible. I tried to get people from Duke University. I started with the president. No one would talk to me from Duke, except for a couple of professors. It's been 10 years. This wasn't an easy story. But maybe it would be good to talk about it to get some resolution. People just want it to go away.
We started filming at this sports bar where cops would hang out. They let us film until they found out what it was about. Then they said, "Stop filming right now. We want nothing to do with that story." That pretty much summed up what I've been going through for the past year.
Who did you end up getting to talk on camera?
"I'm a parent of a 10-year-old boy, and I think what happened is every parent's nightmare," says Fantastic Lies director Marina Zenovich.
I really wanted to talk to some parents. I'm a parent of a 10-year-old boy, and I think what happened is every parent's nightmare. I was waiting to see if parents would talk, and some did. I ended up at the end getting a couple of lacrosse players, Tony McDevitt and Rob Wellington, three parents and three professors from Duke. I tried to get [former Duke coach] Mike Pressler. He didn't want to talk. I tried to get [Duke senior deputy director of athletics] Chris Kennedy. [They both appeared in a "60 Minutes" production on the topic last spring.]
I tried different coaches. No one wanted to talk.
For Mike Pressler, I think "60 Minutes" was his way of talking about it in the context of moving on how he has so successfully. That in and of itself is such an inspiring story, but he didn't want to revisit it. [Former Durham County district attorney] Mike Nifong is not in it. I tried him. Crystal Magnum [the accuser] is in prison. I met with her, but she's not in it.
I have cards at the end of the film that kind of answer all the questions. Because people are curious who didn't want to talk.
Once we got the parents of three of the players, it was a story from the inside.
How did that happen?
Kyle Dowd's mom met with me on Long Island. She didn't want to be interviewed, but Kyle for whatever reason wanted her to talk. That, to me, was a key into getting a point of view of what it was like for a parent. That was a big moment, because she opened a door that was otherwise closed. Little by little, I was talking to other parents. I ended up getting Reade Seligmann's parents and Colin Finnerty's dad.
Then I decided to have a screening in New York where I showed the film to lacrosse players and some other parents. From that screening, I got Tony McDevitt and Rob Wellington. I wanted these people to tell their stories.
Did your perceptions of the story change along the way?
This case just escalated because it seemed to bring to light a lot of issues in this country — privileged white athletes, the race issue, all sorts of stuff. When you look at it from afar, you think it's a team and everyone is the same. But then you get into it and there are divisions. Being a freshman is very different than being a senior. We immediately make the lacrosse team one, when really it was a group of individuals. The media was telling the story in such a way that was blown out of proportion and so much news was happening at once. It was interesting to see it from different points of view.
Was I happy that Duke University didn't talk to me? No, I thought they should talk. I came from the school of, wouldn't this help you heal? But they don't want to talk about it.
Then you had the district attorney, who is an elected official, who everyone is supposed to believe, going on national television and saying these guys are guilty. Of course people are going to think they're guilty. But one of my sources said if Duke came out and said, "No, they're innocent until proven guilty," which is what they are, to some people it would look like Duke was hiding something. You couldn't win.
Everybody had their own agenda. Everybody. They were trying to protect themselves or were using this for their own good. That in itself is very interesting, but, hey, we're all human.
Where Are They Now?
It's been 10 years since one of the most salacious rape cases in history created national media frenzy in Durham, N.C. Lives were changed forever. Millions in legal fees and settlements changed hands. Duke lacrosse went from being a dirty word to a cautionary tale about rushing to judgment.
From left to right: Mangum, Finnerty, Seligmann, Evans, McFadyen, Pressler, Nifong.
It was Evans who first proclaimed in front of cameras on the steps of the Durham County Detention Center that a stripper's sexual assault allegations against Collin Finnerty, Reade Seligmann and him were "fantastic lies." Exonerated in 2007, Evans went on to get a master's degree in finance at Penn's prestigious Wharton School and currently works at a private equity and venture capital firm in New York.
Finnerty used his remaining eligibility to play at and graduate from Loyola. He was co-captain of the Greyhounds and the team's top scorer as a senior in 2010. He's now a financial analyst on Wall Street.
Seligmann chose a career in law in part because of his experience at Duke. After transferring to Brown and finishing his lacrosse career there, he went on to law school at Emory and is an associate attorney at a law firm in New Jersey.
The author of a profane email he sent to teammates in jest the night of the party, McFadyen has experienced difficulty pursuing a career because of Google searches revealing its contents. "I'm not the monster that a lot of people preconceive me to be," he said in the 2014 book, "The Price of Silence."
The coach who was fired due to the allegations landed at Bryant, which has made three straight NCAA tournament appearances. Pressler also led the 2010 U.S. men's national team to a gold medal in the FIL World Championship.
The disgraced district attorney was disbarred and jailed for misconduct in his handling of the case.
The accuser was found guilty in November 2013 of second-degree murder related to a fatal attack on her boyfriend and currently is serving a sentence of 14 to 18 years in prison. — Matt DaSilva
This article originally appeared in the March issue of Lacrosse Magazine. Don't get the mag? Join US Lacrosse today to start your subscription.
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