19-Year-Old Filmmaker Phillip Youmans Makes History: ‘Burning Cane’ Wins Top Prize at Tribeca

At 19-years-old Phillip Youmans is the youngest filmmaker to have a feature film WORLD PREMIERE and WIN at Tribeca Film Festival, which just kicked off its 2019 edition last week. Youmans wrote, directed and shot the award-winning (and now history-making) independent film Burning Cane.

still from Burning Cane
Actor, Wendell Pierce as Reverend Tillman

Set among the cane fields of rural Louisiana, Burning Cane follows a deeply religious mother struggling to reconcile her convictions of faith with the love she has for her troubled son. 

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Burning Cane via IMDB

Youmans is the first Black director to win Tribeca’s top prize: The Founders Award (Best Narrative Feature), and his film nearly swept every narrative award including another win for Youmans (Best Cinematography). Officially his feature-film debut, Youmans and his team created Burning Cane when he was just 17. That is no easy feat for someone to do in two years, even for filmmakers with decades of experience. Mr. Phillip Youmans is a bonafide revelation, and his talent speaks for itself. He’s a natural. Give him all the money and rights to content, please and thank you indie film community!

19-year-old Phillip Youmans
Writer/Director/DP of Burning Cane

Tribeca Film Festival turned out to be the ideal arrival for a new filmmaker like Youmans, especially in this competitive industry. Having a fully realized and vital piece of art as your calling card is a great asset to have. This moment is also making an internationally known fact even more clear: age is just a number. To hear the work that went into creating Burning Cane and then seeing the final film earn major, history-making accolades at a NYC film festival is beyond exciting. But this milestone in cinema will inspire young filmmakers and artists to build their future with passion and belief. Why? Because Phillip Youmans just did it at 19, and stood out against seasoned, older filmmakers at one of the world’s top film festival. Now that’s a fact and simply the truth.

Burning Cane currently doesn’t have distribution. That will soon change. I’m sure after the buzzy premiere Youmans’ team are negotiating their options to release the indie. But how? The goal for distribution should always be to honour the film with a tailored, collaborative marketing strategy and business plan for the film’s amplification across movie theatres and digital platforms — so as many eyes and minds can watch the film, no matter where they live or what they can afford. Burning Cane could be released through a specialized, theatrical model from an indie film studio (great labels like ARRAY or A24 just has to secure the rights!). Another option to maximize Burning Cane‘s reach is through a grassroots distribution campaign. Just need a dedicated and passionate team who will bring the film and its movement to life through targeted sales and community-focused screening program, rather than a traditional theatrical release. With digital media and emerging media platforms constantly evolving, the ways in which a film can reach audiences…is limitless. What an exciting thought regarding the future of film.

Behind the Scenes on Burning Cane
Writer/Director/DP Phillip Youmans & Actor Wendell Pierce

It’s the voices like Phillip Youmans that need to be elevated and experienced through cinema, and supported with a diverse audience. What other time or space would you have a shared public experience with strangers you don’t know, and able to have an immediate conversation with them about the content you all just saw — whether it’s a funny or serious convo? There are some other art forms for sure, but film has become a very accessible medium for people to experience it through various communication channels.

Cinema, especially in a community space, is a vital tool for building a platform for diverse filmmakers to share their worldview and for it to be used as a resource o teach culture and emotional intelligence. There’s also the very likely chance to start a conversation with people you normally wouldn’t talk to about particular themes or human experiences, since they’re rarely represented in media. Whether it produces narratives that catalyze socially impactful conversations or simply teaches a certain truth indirectly through artful characterization, independent filmmaking is an essential art form.

Look out for Burning Cane on the film festival circuit, making its way to Seattle International Film Festal for a June 6th premiere. Questions? Thoughts? Leave a comment below or shoot me an email at cinema4culture@gmail.com!

— Eden Sapir
May 5th, 2019

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