Though many learned his name through his Fulci-nodding directorial debut, We Are Still Here (2015), Ted Geoghegan has been working in horror and science-fiction as a producer for years; which is to say nothing of his work as publicist for the long-running Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal. Transforming from behind the scenes, Geoghegan’s debut scored him wide-praise in the genre world, growing an audience eager to see his next work work.
That audience looks to grow even larger, with the upcoming theatrical release of Mohawk, currently still making the rounds of film festivals. Mohawk – which premiered at Fantasia in July of last year – is set in 1814, during the War of 1812, in which “a young Mohawk woman and her two lovers battle a squad of American soldiers hell-bent on revenge.”
The film, co-written by Cinepunx favorite Grady Hendrix, has been receiving strong plaudits, and, while this reviewer has yet to see it, the fact that the Mohawk warrior, Oak, is played by a Mohawk woman (Kaniehtiio Horn) is more than enough to warrant interest; especially, given how few films still seem willing to cast Native actors in Native roles.
Mohawk screens this Saturday, January 27, at the Screenland Armour in Kansas City as part of this year’s Panic Fest (followed by a Q&A with Geoghegan). In anticipation of the film’s continued festival run and upcoming release, I spoke with the Geoghegan last week by phone, as he was road-tripping his way to Sundance.
Given your work with a film festival, does that make you more amenable to having your films make the rounds?
Ted Geoghegan: I handle publicity at Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal. I don’t do any programming, so I feel like my position at that festival is about getting the word out about films, as opposed to actually selecting the cinema that plays there. I feel honored every time a film that I make gets to play at any festival.
I have the utmost respect for film festival programmers. I don’t know how they do it. It’s very hard for me to watch a film and be able to tell if a mass audience would be able to enjoy it or not, so I’m always impressed when people pick the right movies, and I’m always honored when they pick my movie.
That said, I don’t think that my working at Fantasia makes me amenable to festivals as much as it helps me understand how much work goes into creating a festival. All of the time and effort that gets put into putting any festival together makes me definitely more honored to have my movie play there.
Is there something to having your film alongside and in the midst of – if not similar, then like-minded movies? You’ve been supportive of the films by attending many of the festival screenings. Does being in attendance change how your film is seen?
I think being at any festival in person definitely changes the way an audience views the film. I tend to give short, but sincere, introductions to my movies that hopefully help kind of craft audience expectations. I quite like being in that position to help the audience understand what it is they’re about to see.
On the flipside of that, I realize that every film has to stand on its own. Every movie has to live or die by what’s on the screen. I think that my films – anyone’s films – playing festivals before they open wide is a good thing for the film, because I think it helps create the language used to describe the film when it’s wide-released. If Mohawk were to come out without any festival run, I think people would just go, “This is an interesting movie that’s tackling a lot of concepts. I think there’s a lot to unpack, here,’ as opposed to – after playing festivals – people can Google the film and read a handful of reviews out at festivals where I was, and helped introduce the film, and helped introduce the film to people in general. The language that the critics use in those first few reviews will help color how other people view the film when it’s wide-released and I’m not there to be able to introduce it to everyone.
That makes a lot of sense, because there’s a piece in Indiewire, where they make the point that this is a film “Hollywood Would Never Make,” and then proceeds to sing Mohawk‘s praises.
I’m extremely thankful for the language that a lot of those festivals use to color the film on my behalf. That piece in Indiewire was great. It definitely helped a lot to get audiences to understand just what it was we were trying to do. Given the fact that I’ve worked almost exclusively in horror for 17 years, and my directorial debut was a critically-acclaimed horror film – to follow that up with a movie that defies a lot of those expectations is certainly a different approach, and not one I think most directors would take.
So, it’s very helpful for me and this film to have folks out there who already understand it, so that when horror fans finally decide to rent Mohawk, and go, “What in the world is this?!”, there’s enough reviews and features out there already to help them understand the choices that I made in choosing this as my sophomore film.
Even having not yet seen Mohawk, it seems that, on the surface, it’s very different from We Are Still Here, whose protagonists were middle-aged white people. This new film has younger, Native people – a definite outlier in the horror or action genres – being played by Native actors, which is just a generally uncommon thing in film, period.
Yeah, no, absolutely. Native Americans and First Nations people are sorely underrepresented in film, which is one of the numerous reasons I wanted to tell this story. Myself being a white man of northern European descent, I felt as though I wanted to treat the subject with the utmost care. I certainly didn’t want to be accused of cultural appropriation.
I wanted to be able to tell a story about a marginalized people who are still marginalized, to this day, and see the parallels between what happened 204 years ago, and what’s still happening in the U.S. right now. I feel as though – even though it’s a period piece – it’s still a timely film. We made it saying we were making a horror film for Trump’s America, never expecting Trump’s America to come to fruition.
Going back to that Indiewire piece, you were very adamant that Native people play Native roles. Eugene Brave Rock, in Wonder Woman, made massive waves because The Chief was a prominent Native character in a big-budget Hollywood action film actually portrayed by a Native actor.
Absolutely. It’s really just about representation, and making sure those voices are heard. In the case of Mohawk, there are three Native roles in the film: the lead character, her boyfriend, and her mother. I was very determined to ensure that those three roles were portrayed by actual native people.
I felt very fortunate that the lead actress who plays Oak, Kaniehtiio Horn, is not only actually Native, but she’s actually Mohawk, and she speaks Kanien’keha, the Mohawk language, and was able to bring a lot of that to the film. Those were the sort of things, when writing it, I never thought we would have on the film. I felt very honored – not only to be telling that story – but to have someone who traces her heritage back to this era being a part of this film.
Mohawk plays Panic Fest at Kansas City’s Screenland Armour on Saturday, January 27, at 3:50pm, followed by a Q&A with director Ted Geoghegan, as well as on Thursday, February 1, at 6:30pm. Tickets for those screenings can be found at Panic Fest’s website.