Young. Gifted. Black. Three simple words to describe the cinematic brilliance of 19-year-old filmmaker, Phillip Youmans. Youmans made history as the youngest director and the first Black filmmaker to win Tribeca Film Festival’s top prize – The Founders Award.
Written, directed, shot, and edited while Youmans was still in high school, “Burning Cane” premiered at this year’s festival and has been lauded “one of the most exciting Black films of the year so far.”
The New Orleans native first wrote the short script for ‘Burning Cane’ during his junior year of high school. He then contacted accomplished film director Benh Zeitlin on Instagram for guidance and support. He had no idea that the project would ultimately grow into such an impactful and provocative work of art garnering him accolades well beyond his years.
‘Burning Cane’ is set in rural Louisiana, reminiscent of Youmans’ actual upbringing, and follows the journey of a young man who is coming of age and discovering that he thinks differently than his deeply religious family and surrounding community. The film is very personal to Youmans’ as he often times found himself religiously conflicted and wanted to tell the story in a way that didn’t ostracize anyone’s beliefs but offered alternate perspectives and experiences.
“I wanted to make sure that I didn’t demonize them or their beliefs, which came from a maturity I had to grow into before making this film,” Youmans shared in a phone interview with IndieWire.com. He deemed it important to “humanize their experiences” which also forced him to confront many of his own struggles with religion throughout his life.
Youmans’ next project has already been written and he’s working now to bring to life the little-known story of the 1978 New Orleans chapter of the Black Panthers. He seeks to address the irony of politically conscious young Black men and women working to help their communities progress while also perpetuating some of the same stereotypes they were fighting against. Given the depth of the subject matter that he chooses to tackle in his films and despite his youthful exterior, Youmans has found a fresh and thoughtful voice that has grabbed the attention of the film industry with no plans to let go any time soon.