Phillip Youmans was the first black director to win Best Narrative Feature at Tribeca Film Festival – and then he turned 20. In fact, Youmans, an LA-based auteur, was a 17-year-old at high school in New Orleans when he wrote, directed, and shot his breakthrough film Burning Cane. Not that you’d guess his age from the drama’s accomplished, mature execution. “I make humanising, character-driven films rooted in the black experience,” he says. “I want to highlight the joys and nuances of the human condition. Storytelling is a form of therapy.”
Indeed, if Burning Cane’s storytelling feels therapeutic, it’s because Youmans based the script on his own specific, religious upbringing in New Orleans – the influence of which you can see in his Dazed spring 2020 issue guest-edit. The debut feature stars Wendell Pierce as a drink-driving curate with an inordinate amount of influence over his local community; Ava DuVernay was so impressed, she acquired it for her distribution company.
Up next for Youmans is a second narrative feature, Magnolia Bloom, and also a non-fiction project. In other words, the director won’t be slowing down just yet. “I want my story to motivate future young filmmakers to make the films that they want to make, regardless of what anybody says about it,” he says. “The democratisation of filmmaking gives me hope because that is how the medium will grow.”
How is your work unique to you, or informed by your perspective, experiences, or identity?
Phillip Youmans: My work is reflective of the people, places, and events that have shaped my perspective. Namely my family and New Orleans. My work parallels the conversations and issues that are relevant to me at the time of creation. For example, Burning Cane reflected my own complex relationship with the Church and vices. I don’t run away from how much of me is in my work.
“I don’t run away from how much of me is in my work” – Phillip Youmans
What issues or causes are you passionate about and why?
Phillip Youmans: I’m passionate about climate change, and the coastal erosion of my home state, Louisiana. I’m passionate about achieving a true, comprehensive single-payer healthcare system in the US because I believe that no one should be denied healthcare based on their available finances.
What creative or philanthropic project would you work on with a grant from the Dazed 100 Ideas Fund?
Phillip Youmans: I’m going to make a full-scale video installation project back home in New Orleans.