Phillip Youmans is Making Sartorial History at 19 Years Old

From the pages of #V123, get to know the up-and-coming filmmaker.

Before hitting Netflix in November, Burning Cane was a Tribeca Film Festival buzz magnet, its quiet, verisimilar drama offering a seldom- seen look at Southern semi-rural life. Adding to the buzz was the notable age of the director, Phillip Youmans, who, at just 19, may have seemed an unlikely candidate to tackle themes like stymied social and economic progress, or the hypocrisy of the church. Indeed, the film’s sole young-person character, the passive Jeremiah, doesn’t say much. And yet, while Burning Cane is by no stretch a kid’s movie, it is about kids, according to Youmans.“For me, the entire story is about Jeremiah,” he says.“People use him as a justification for their actions, and say he’s the important thing, but their actions routinely display the contrary.”

While Youmans grew up in a “rigid Protestant ecosystem,” not unlike the one portrayed in Burning Cane, the New Orleans native says his lm has no agenda. Instead he hopes the story enables a sort of “free association,” in which “people can bring their own feelings and interpretations to the table.” In fact, Youmans credits his early-arriving success with the adults he grew up around, namely his mother Cassandra, a producer on the film. “It’s so interesting, because she is still very religious, but she’s also encouraged active dialogues about [religion], and is okay with the fact that I directly question it,” says Youmans. Further credit goes to the teachers at Youmans’s performing arts high school in New Orleans (“Shout out to Mr. Webb!”) as well as to Ava DuVernay, who made the winning bid on Burning Cane. “[That was] a humbling thing for sure, and it’s also just like a pinch-me moment,” says Youmans, calling in from DuVernay’s production company headquarters on the day of Cane’s Net ix premiere.“I think today is definitely a homecoming situation.”

But the young filmmaker doesn’t intend to lose sight of his place of origin.“I could give my authentic insight [because] it was a subject that I knew about, a world that I experienced growing up,” he says. “The fact that it has resonated with people really has just given me that confidence, and excited me to get back on set.”

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