In 2005, just four days before Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, newlyweds Peter and Angela Becnel bought their first home together.
Using the last of their savings to purchase flood insurance, the young couple couldn’t afford to heed the city’s mandatory evacuation order so they stayed put, riding the storm out in the multi-unit dwelling that once belonged to Peter’s grandfather, opening their doors to friends who thought their two-story property might be safer, and as the water began to rise flooding the street below, neighbors and animals seeking higher ground—finding refuge with the Becnels and creating a bond that would link their memories of Katrina forever.
Directed by New Zealand native Janene Knox in collaboration with Peter Becnel, “A Reason to Stay” is the compelling personal account of the group’s experience and post-Katrina reflections.
Eight years in the making, this 90-minute documentary includes interviews shot over numerous years and home video footage captured by Becnel during the storm that lends an intimacy to the film and makes viewers feel as though they are witnessing the experience of their own friends rather than strangers at a distance.
While many filmmakers struggle with sourcing music for their projects, this wasn’t the case for “A Reason to Stay” directors Knox and Becnel, whose soundtrack features the musical talents of Ryan Scully, one of the subjects of the documentary who viewers come to know as he and wife Deirdre shelter at the Becnels during the hurricane and are interviewed throughout the film. The songs featured by his band R. Scully’s Rough 7 help highlight the tenacious and unique spirit of the city and perfectly accompany both the film’s mood and narrative.
Perhaps what’s most inspiring about “A Reason to Stay” isn’t in the dramatic moments of rescue or the sheer notion of surviving such a disaster, but the simple uplifting nature of seeing neighbors helping neighbors.
In what was no doubt a scary and stressful event to live through, fear and stress aren’t the emotions that run through the film. Chalk it up to the subjects being cool headed non-alarmists or just all around positive people, but their alacrity carries the film and may even make you feel more hopeful about whatever situation you may find yourself in.
If one can crack a joke in chest-high floodwaters, fish sweets out of a street turned river, or beam a smile from a roof while a helicopter hovers overhead, then hope flows in the current more powerful than despair or defeat.
And “A Reason to Stay” may just be the reminder you need to remember that even when the waters rise, the goodness of life, the goodness we have for each other, can still shine brightly even in the murkiest tides of the unknown.
To learn more about “A Reason to Stay,” visit the film’s official Facebook page.
“A Reason to Stay” screens at the Arohanui Film Festival in Te Aroha, NZ October 28th at 2:00 PM. Tickets are available through Eventbrite. A Q&A with director Janene Knox will follow the screening.