We had the pleasure of interviewing filmmaker Janene Knox and Peter Becnel, as they get ready for their showing of A Reason to Stay, playing at Indie Grits this year.
1. What is your connection to the South?
I am from the deep South–as in South Pacific–I am from New Zealand. I first visited the U.S. in 1997 and moved to New York City shortly thereafter. My first visit to the American South was during a road trip to attend the Millennium Celebration in New Orleans. I was thrilled as we passed through all the states I’d seen/heard about having grown up with american popular culture. It was on this trip that my partner and A Reason To Stay (ARTS) DP, Bill Poznanski decided to purchase a house in New Orleans. He did so in 2001 and ever since then we have spent part of each year in the Bywater neighborhood of our beloved New Orleans.
ARTS Co-Director and main subject of our film, Peter Becnel is a life-long resident of Louisiana. He currently lives in New Orleans.
2. What was your Muse for this film?
Hurricane Katrina’s impact cemented my connection and love for my other adopted city, New Orleans. Watching the city flood via television from NYC, with help so slow in coming to the many people suffering, was absolutely frustrating and heart-breaking. All we wanted to do after the storm was to return to the city and help rebuild it. For weeks later we did so, before our neighborhood was officially open and while the city was still under curfew, without electricity or potable water. Nobody stopped us but the National Guard did pay us a visit and even helped with some repairs. while our home was not flooded by the levee failures it WAS severely damaged. The roof had been partially torn off by Katrina’s winds. Subsequent storms Rita and Wilma dumped so much water into the house that all the ceilings and walls had to be replaced. Many years later and after a lot of blood, sweat and tears, we rebuilt the house which had fortunately been fully insured. it was on these frequent trips to repair our house that we shot the interviews for ARTS often in a rushed, ‘run and gun’ manner with whatever equipment we were able to take on the plane with us.
3. What was the first film you ever made?
I attended Ilam School of Fine Arts at Cantebury University, Christchurch, NZ majoring in Film Making. Studying film within an Art School gave me a strong interest in Experimental film. Most of my previous work has been non-narrative/experimental documentary or installations. The first film I ever made at art school was called Seascope, a non-narrative short depicting wave patterns and light on the ocean surface with an ‘art noise’ soundtrack of natural wind and water noises. ARTS is our first Narrative, feature length documentary.
4. Did anything interesting or funny happen on the set or during shooting?
The Video Diaries
Having interviewed all of our main subjects several times over the past eight years, they all agree Janene Knox now know the time-line better than any of them! Memory and recall can play tricks on us as the years go by. In addition to Peter’s amazing footage of the storm, ARTS incorporates amateur video interview recorded shortly after Hurricane Katrina, for their accuracy. When our subjects, Ryan and Deirdre Scully finally escaped their post-Katrina, MadMax-esque neighborhood for Warrensburg, Missouri, Ryan’s Uncle William had the foresight to turn a camera on them. Chain-smoking, surrounded by beer bottles and still very stressed out by their ordeal, it remains the most accurate and vivid recollection of the weeks’ events by the Scullys.
Just months after Katrina, while the city was still in ruins, Peter interviewed T-Roy with his camcorder on the balcony overlooking the intersection of Toulouse and North Rendon Streets. T-Roy had returned to New Orleans to pack up his life before going to live in Arizona, the city he was randomly evacuated to following Hurricane Katrina. this was the balcony where T-Roy had spent seven days alone with the dogs after everyone else had been evacuated. The location helped prompt T-Roy’s memory and is the most passionate recollection of events by him. T-Roy would not return to live in Louisiana for seven years. We also interviewed T-Roy in 2015, ten years after Hurricane Katrina as he walked around his former, no gentrifying neighborhood.
5. How to Be Your Own Assistant Editor; Workflow
Our documentary, eight years in the making (2007-15), spans major technological changes in cameras (SD/HD), formats and editing software. In addition to Co-Directing and Producing, Janene Knox began editing this project in the late 2000s but did not pick it up again until 2014/15. Now with honed editing skills she switched editing systems and hunkered down for the final cut. She came to the realization that she had essentially been her own “Assistant Editor” having logged the original footage many years prior.