Phillip Youmans is first black director and youngest to win coveted Founders Award

Dwight Casimere | 5/20/2019, 6 p.m.
History was made at the 18th Tribeca Film Festival. 'Burning Cane', the debut feature narrative by 19 year old director ...

History was made at the 18th Tribeca Film Festival. 'Burning Cane', the debut feature narrative by 19 year old director Phillip Youmans made him the first African American to win the coveted Founder's Award for Best Narrative Feature, he is also the youngest director to ever have a film presented in the prestigious film festival. Yuma's finished the film at the same time that he was finishing high school. He is now a Freshman at New York University.

Youmans' masterpiece charts the events of a few days in the lives of the Wayne family and one Rev. Tilman in a small, rural Parish outside New Orleans. the film is recorded in almost documentary fashion b y the young director's revelatory camerawork, which also brought him honors for Best Cinematography in a U.S. Documentary Narrative Film. Youmans was forced to shoot the film himself after his original choice for cinematic chores became unavailable. His handheld camera gives the film a realistic feel that further adds to its impact. What may have been the result of sheer necessity turned out to be a fortuitous happenstance. Youmans camera captures microscopic moments that are fleeting, yet quite telling; the opening scene of the sugar cane fields burning in the distance with the faint glimmer of a rainbow, a young boy riding his scooter inside the house. In later scenes, an alcoholic father is seen vomiting in ulcer-induced pain after a bout of binge drinking. One can sense the undercurrent of raw human drama beneath the placid overlay of long, humid afternoons. (A local radio announcer warns residents to stay inside 'the cool of your home' as defense against the 90 degree heat and to 'stock up on blue crabs and crawfish. The sale ends when the doors are locked!') Theirs are still waters, but they run deep. The film's story unfolds with the deft hand of a young William Faulkner. We hear the voice of Helen Wayne (a riveting Karen Kaia Livers), the matriarchal core of the film, recounting her endless quest to cure her beloved dog of 13 years, JoJo, of the mange. Applying consecutive doses of Apple Cider Vinegar, Hydrogen Peroxide, Borax, Vegetable Oil and Honey; all home remedies suggested by well-meaning friends and relatives, to no effect. "I won't take him to the doctor. They'll just tell me to take him out to the cane fields and shoot him. They can't tell me when JoJo should die. Only the Lord can do that!") Her mangy dog becomes a metaphor for the wounded souls we meet later in the film. Most astonishing is the fact that she recounts all of this tender, loving care of her dog while butchering a chicken in the bloodiest and most callous manner possible! The film is loaded with such contradictions. Which, as we all know, is a fact of the human condition. We then hear a male singer and organist singing Swing Low Sweet Chariot in the local church. That's when we meet the Right, Reverend Tillman (Wendell Pierce).