Grassroots distribution company ARRAY Releasing acquired nineteen-year-old New Orleans-based filmmaker Phillip Youmans’ multiple award-winning feature debut, “Burning Cane,” earlier this month. Now, ARRAY has released a trailer for the film, which is set in rural Louisiana and stars Wendell Pierce and Karen Kaia Livers in a story about an aging mother who struggles between her religious convictions and the love of her son.
Written, directed, photographed, and co-edited by Youmans when he was still in high school, the intimate drama is inspired by his childhood experiences in the Southern Baptist church — an institution from which he would later distance himself. It’s a meditation on the church’s immense influence over its community, as Youmans works through his own complicated feelings about the differences he has with the God-fearing people who raised him. The lyrical, sensitive story registers as one of the more exciting new indie films of the year so far, and establishes Youmans as a mature director with a fully realized voice despite his youth.
The filmmaker’s many influences are evident in “Burning Cane” and in this first look. Terrence Malick, whose “Days of Heaven” and “Badlands” the rising star names as two of his all-time favorite films, looms large in Youmans’s work. He also loves Paul Thomas Anderson, Steve McQueen, and African cinema pioneer Djibril Diop Mambety. The film also boasts “Beasts of the Southern Wild” director Benh Zeitlin’s seal of approval: Under his New Orleans-based non-profit collective Court 13 Arts, Zeitlin took on the young Youmans as a disciple, and helped him secure a grant that would allow him to complete post-production on “Burning Cane.”
The film won the Best Narrative Feature, Best Actor (for Pierce), and Best Cinematography awards at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival, where it premiered. It also won the festival’s Founders Award, making Youmans the first African American director to win the trophy. IndieWire’s chief critic Eric Kohn called it a “lyrical debut” in his review, terming it a “compelling snapshot of Southern poverty and grief.”
“Burning Cane” most recently screened at the Venice Film Festival, and will next be seen at the BFI London Film Festival in October.
ARRAY will open the film in New York City at the IFC Center on Friday, October 25 and in Los Angeles at ARRAY’s Amanda Theater on Friday, November 8. The film will premiere on Netflix on Wednesday, November 6. Check out the film’s first trailer below.