“The Lafayette Escadrille” Featuring History Teacher David Hanna Airs on National Television
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History teacher David Hanna was featured in “The Lafayette Escadrille,” a documentary inspired by his book “Rendezvous with Death,” which showcases the stories of American volunteer soldiers fighting for the French Air Force unit in World War I. The documentary aired nationwide on PBS and is set to continue in the coming weeks.
“The Lafayette Escadrille” is a feature-length documentary that tells the story of a unit of U.S. soldiers who volunteered to fight for France during World War I before the U.S. formally entered the war. It is written, directed, and produced by Darroch Greer and Paul Glenshaw.
This documentary is the first detailed and accurate film recounting the escadrille, a French squadron of aircraft. “There’s been Hollywood films about them, but they’re not really accurate. And the documentaries that have been made have generally been low-budget—they haven’t had a wide audience,” Hanna said.
Hanna’s role in the documentary is what is known as a talking head, in which he provided additional insight and context about the situation. “The documentary has narration, but we don’t want to tell the entire story through narration, so, we asked David to come in and provide some of his own insight into the story,” Greer said. “We relied on him heavily to contextualize the Belle Epoque era, or ‘the beautiful times.’”
Greer and Glenshaw’s production required a fundraising campaign in both the U.S. and France and was filmed in both countries, with shots spanning across 40 locations in France. “We worked on the film very intently for four years. Doing a lot of research, reading a lot of books, reaching out to the children of the figures in the film,” Greer said. “It feels very gratifying to have our work released to the world.”
Hanna found the documentary’s recognition to be a surprise, as he did not expect it to be televised across the country. “It wasn’t like I intended to do that. I just wrote that book and he [Greer] read it—it was all serendipity,” Hanna said. “I'm really happy for them because I got to know them personally, and so I'm really happy everybody is going to be able to see their work.”
One of Hanna’s students is looking forward to watching the documentary for his insights into the historical event. “[Hanna is] not only speaking as a teacher. He’s speaking as a historian. He’s speaking as someone who loves what he does,” junior Sarah Peter said. “Speaking from experience, [Hanna] has a way of bringing things to life.”
Peter added that the retelling of this obscure event through a documentary format makes it approachable. “[The documentary] can appeal to anyone—any student, any adult,” Peter said. “It makes people interested in something they might’ve not even known, especially in an event as big as World War I.”
Others are interested in the specific tactics and technology the documentary covers about air combat and the pilots that were involved in the fighting. “It’s really fascinating because it goes into a pivotal moment in the style of warfare, how air combat was first introduced,” junior Aiden Mizhen said.
Similarly, some see this documentary as a broader impact that lessons taught at school have. “It’s really inspiring for students to see their teacher represented in more than the classroom,” Mizhen said. “Being able to see real applications of history classes, it’s really important to see how there is a real impact on the world by teaching and learning history.
The documentary will be aired from November 8 to 12 on PBS in honor of Veteran’s Day, and its next airing will be on November 11 at 3:00 p.m., which can also be viewed on https://www.wliw.org/live/. With the release date approaching, Hanna said, “I would tell students that it’s a really good film, especially if they’re interested in learning about France or World War I.”