Youmans wrote Burning Cane when he was 16, filmed it at 18, and is now 19, so he has an eye beyond his years. He grew up in a Southern Baptist church but describes himself now as agnostic. Personal bitterness toward the church doesn’t come through: In the film he gives the pastor a few scenes to preach uncut for several minutes. The pastor reads the entirety of Psalm 27 at one point (“One thing I ask of the Lord …”), along with Ephesians 6:10-18.
“Man is a rebel against God,” the pastor preaches. A relationship with God is “the most important relationship in your life.”
But Youmans does portray ugliness in the church. The pastor has a serious drinking problem, his parishioners curse, and the troubled son of the main parishioner watches porn. The story feels like it comes from someone familiar with the church he’s depicting.
Even if it was heavy, Burning Cane expanded my world a little bit. At the press screening I attended, I felt the tension in the room during the preaching scenes, so it seemed to me that it expanded the world of secular critics too.