Geoghegan grew up in Montana, spending time around Blackfoot and Cherokee people, before moving to New York to work as a screenwriter and film publicist. (He currently runs Fantasia’s press office, and edited “Mohawk” in between preparing for the 2017 edition.) “I discovered the Mohawk people through the architecture of New York City. They built it,” he said. “I suddenly had this unbelievable reverence toward what they had done. I wanted to tell that story in some way.”
However, he added that while the polyamorous relationship between the three main characters isn’t overt, he did draw from his own experiences to write it. “I’m a member of the LGBT community, and I wanted there to be a lot of varied sexuality in the film,” said Geoghegan, who’s bisexual. He said that such relationships were known to take place at the time.
Much of the project’s historical accuracy was maintained by on-set consultant Guy W. Gane III, who advises several television shows set in the 19th century, including “Josephine” and “Legend & Lies.” (He also plays an ill-fated solider in the film.) Gane’s assistance was key to maintaining the details Geoghan sought — another decision that distances the movie from overwrought studio productions.
While Sundance’s Native American and Indigenous Film Program has supported Native American filmmakers for years, none of these filmmakers have cracked the studio arena, in part because the stories being told there don’t speak to their history. “Cinematically, we’re used to seeing First Nation people in furs,” Geoghegan said. “That’s historically accurate in different time periods, but we really wanted to do something with this film where aesthetically we were as close to reality as humanly possible.”
He and Hendrix also researched the language of the time to ensure that every word fit period (that includes one soldier ranting, “I’ll be fucked”). At the same time, he positioned the movie as a commentary on modern times, particularly the decision by the British to send so-called “Indian agents” to aid the indigenous people. “It has a lot of parallels to what’s going on in the U.S. the last few years, where we’ve sent people into the Middle East and they go to villages and say if people come to attack you, here’s what you do. In some cases it’s helpful; in other cases it’s horribly destructive.”
While “Mohawk” doesn’t exactly sympathize with the white villains, it does make it clear that the colonel’s mission to exterminate the indigenous people stems from deep-seated beliefs. That’s especially true in the harrowing final act, when the men wander hopelessly through the woods while the furious Oak tracks their every move, avoiding detection. “We’re the only monsters out here,” he asserts. It’s only time the movie’s villain gets honest.