MSUM film production graduate Zach Marion ’07 debuted his first feature-length film in early October. His documentary, “Where She Lies,” was licensed by Gravitas Ventures, one of America’s largest independent film distributors, and landed him a spot in the Nashville Film Festival. But before the excitement and work on this film began, Zach spent years gaining education and experience in the filmmaking industry, starting at MSUM.
In his first year of college, Zach transferred from NDSU to MSUM. It was early 2004, in the second semester, that he decided to study film after he met with the film department chair at the time, Rusty Casselton. He had reservations, but when Rusty asked, “Why can’t you come here and study film?” Zach didn’t have an excuse not to.
“He was just so optimistic and fed my passion for wanting to do this,” Zach said.
Zach’s time at MSUM started off a bit rocky. He struggled with his academics and was at risk of dropping out. That was the case until he met with Rusty, who gave him two choices: continue as he was and potentially not graduate or start taking his academics seriously and move forward with his life.
“That was such a turning point. To have somebody, who wasn’t my parents, say that it’s time to really take this seriously,” Zach said. “It completely changed the trajectory of, certainly my time at MSUM, but my entire life.”
Zach gives credit to Rusty for the engaged student and filmmaker he eventually became. He values the relationships with his professors and lifelong friends who he connected with at MSUM.
“Rusty taught me to become self-actualized and take my life seriously. Kyja (Kristjansson-Nelson) taught me to experiment with the media that I’m using, get close to it, and to push the boundaries. Tom (Brandau) really showed me the passion for relationships, fostering and staying in touch with people.”
After graduating from MSUM, Zach worked on an independent project and found an interest in crime stories. He then landed a position at Video Arts Studios in Fargo.
“That was the beginning of my career. I did that for about four and a half years, and during that time it was like my second education,” Zach said.
It was when he was at Video Art Studios that Zach came across the story that would become the basis of his future film.
“This woman gave birth out of wedlock, and she was told her baby died shortly after the baby was born; but she had also other doctors who told her conflicting reports that the baby was fine. There was a lot of mystery surrounding the birth,” Zach explained. “She went on with her life believing her baby had died, and then 33 years later, her mother confessed to her on her deathbed that her baby never died. I thought, ‘That’s the most insane premise I’ve ever heard.’ It’s betrayal by your closest family members.”
Years later, after graduating from the University of California, Los Angeles and starting a company, Zemma Productions, with his fiancée, Zach still had this story of the woman, Peggy, in the back of his mind. So, in the summer of 2016, after discussing the idea with a producer, Zach wrote Peggy a letter.
“Three days later she called me. And that was the beginning of the entire process that led to ‘Where She Lies,’ which is my first full-length feature documentary and full-length film,” he said.
Peggy believed her baby was out there. They spoke over the phone about the events of her life, Zach described the stories as “stranger than fiction.”
“Here is this stranger in Chattanooga, Tenn., trusting me with her story. In return there seems to be a moral obligation forming within my heart and mind, that if there’s something I can do to help her get to the bottom of what happened and help solve the mystery that has essentially plagued her entire life, I’m going to try to do that,” Zach said.
Even with the motivation that was sparked in Zach after diving into Peggy’s story, it wasn’t an easy process. It took four years of investigation, tracking people down, and many roadblocks to finish the documentary. Throughout the process, they became close friends.
“I feel fortunate that I’ve had an opportunity in my life to tick off an item on my professional bucket list… Now [I can] stop and ask, ‘Well why can’t I do that other thing that I’ve always wanted to do?’ That was something that I certainly had growing up and it was something that MSUM certainly cultivated in me, and it’s continued to carry me through my life with all of my work,” Zach said.
Now, Zach moves forward in other projects with a sense of confidence. “Where She Lies” debuted at the 2020 Nashville Film Festival in the Tennessee Features category. He hopes people see his film—which was also released on streaming services Nov. 10—but not just for his benefit.
“The film is a very emotional, beautiful message that is relevant to the times right now. I feel that the biggest thing facing our species is the nature of truth. We’re all constantly questioning fact-based reasoning, and part of the fact that people cannot find common ground is because we can’t decide what common ground is,” he explained.
Zach said the film is an allegory for that struggle of finding truth.
Moving forward, Zach has many other professional projects to work on. He says he is satisfied with the film and it’s only a bonus if other people watch, resonate with, and love it.
Learn more about Zach’s film, “Where She Lies,” by visiting whereshelies.com. You can also stream it on AppleTV, Amazon Prime, VUDU, Fandango Now, Google Play, YouTube, Redbox On Demand, Microsoft Store, and cable on-demand.
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