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The true story behind Michael Mann’s The Last of the Mohicans is the Siege of Fort William Henry.
During the French and Indian War, William Henry was a British fort on Lake George, near the New York border. In 1757, the fort was besieged by a French force of 9,000 troops, including about 2,000 American Indian allies. The fort was shelled by French artillery for many days, while Indians tormented the Europeans in the nearby encampment. The siege came to an end after six days. The British and colonials in the Fort and the surrounding encampment raised the white flag and surrendered. The Indians assaulted the surrendering British forces the next day, resulting in an epic bloodbath. The novelist James Fenimore Cooper was inspired by these events to create “The Last of the Mohicans.” His story is set during the siege of Fort William Henry. The events of the Siege are recounted in this video via the notebooks and letters of individuals who were there at the time. Colonel Joseph Frye’s account, as well as the journals of French General Montcalm, his aide de camp, and others, bring the historical events to life. Hear from those who fought on both sides of the Fort William Henry Siege.
We chatted with Erik Swanson, the film’s director.
When did you start working on this project?
Between June 2020 and June 2021, I worked on the documentary. When I first began, one of my goals was to complete it in less than a year. I made it just in time for my self-imposed deadline.
What about the source of inspiration? I’m guessing it began with an interest with history like The Last of the Mohicans and grew from there?
Fort William Henry was originally introduced to me in the film The Last of the Mohicans, which is one of my favorite films. I’ve always been interested in history and like reading about what truly occurred in historical films, so that was my first exposure to the subject.
I also like watching historical documentaries. Years ago, I used to binge-watch the History Channel, but their historical programming has deteriorated significantly. At the end of the day, I chose to produce the documentary that I wanted to watch. The Siege of Fort William Henry seemed to be a natural match.
With a document like enormous, where do you begin? Are you putting together a list of potential interviewees?
I began by learning about the past. I studied all I could and looked for historical materials on the siege. I also had interviews lined up quite early on. This proved to be beneficial since some of them were able to point me in the direction of portions of the narrative that I hadn’t previously known about.
How much research goes into a project like this?
There was a lot of study that went into this. I spent months looking for antique maps, historic records and letters, and Fort William Henry’s original blueprints. The majority of my research was completed early on, but I continued to do so throughout the filming process to ensure that I didn’t miss anything important that may be included in the documentary.
Did you learn anything along the road that you didn’t know before?
The most important takeaway for me was how much the historical period affected current military and fighting. Many elements may be linked back to the French and Indian War, such as accurate marksmanship, guerrilla tactics, and special forces. Native American warfare methods, which were adopted by colonists in Canada and New England, had a direct impact on all of these. For his Ranger company, Robert Rogers created a set of “rules” that are being taught in the military today.
What scene from the film would you want to see played at an awards ceremony?
I’d probably go with the part on August 6, the siege’s fourth day. That is a really good passage, in my opinion, because it effectively conveys the film’s whole span. Filmed reenactments, animations, narration, and excellent voice acting read parts from historical journals are included. This part, I believe, would offer viewers a decent idea of the documentary as a whole.
Visit https://eks.tv/product/the-siege-of-fort-william-henry-dvd/ to get the DVD.
Thank you for taking the time to have a conversation with me. Hopefully, we’ll be able to speak again.
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