Young. Wild. Free., the sharp and sleek drama directed by Thembi Banks and starring Algee Smith, Sierra Capri and Sanaa Lathan, debuted to audiences over the weekend at the Sundance Film Festival.

The film, co-written by Banks with Juel Taylor, has the distinction of being one of the only films to be fully financed by Black-owned entities– MACRO and Confluential Films. Banks noted the importance of that during her introduction for the film’s premiere at the Library Center Theatre in Park City, and also dove into more detail about it in a recent interview with Shadow and Act.

“It was such a beautiful and special thing and that’s why we had to call it out,” Banks told us. “And I had to make sure that people knew that there is such power in looking into your own community and supporting your own community…and that we are doing it…because you hear so much about how we don’t support each other and how we’re not able to have the resources to do the things that we wanna do for ourselves and each other. This is a beautiful moment where we can say it happened.”

“Talented and respected men in our industry, Charles King (MACRO founder and CEO) and Tommy Oliver (Confluential founder and CEO), and of course, James Lopez (MACRO Film Studios president)– they came together and they supported me, another black person, at the beginning of her career,” she continued. “And not only did they support me financially, but they supported me creatively because we all know there are situations where people hold the purse strings and they say,’ I’m gonna give you this money, but you have to do what I say.'”

The film itself revolves around Brandon (Smith), a teenager who is struggling both at school and at home, as he uses art to escape from his daily trials. Things change after a wild encounter with a new girl he meets, Cassidy (Capri), and her influence leads him down a dangerous path. With all of this, the movie is ripe with a lot of deep, meaningful and topical themes, but also has humor and wit to it as well.

Banks, who has quickly become a prolific episodic television writer/director/producer with Only Murders in the Building, The Sex Lives of College Girls and Love Life, says this levity is something always present in her work.

“I always approach everything I do with levity,” she said. “I think you can’t have happy without sad, darkness without light–so I think to really feel the impact of any moment, whether it is laughter and a chance to breathe or whether it’s like the heaviness and the gravity of some of the emotional moments, you kind of have to have those two things go hand in hand. For me…it’s always important to have levity, but also in particular for this story, I think on the page and sometimes in execution, stories like this can really take a toll on you emotionally and can feel very downtrodden. I didn’t wanna do that. I wanted people to root for this Brandon, this family, Janice, and so I wanted to make sure that there was joy and light and love and warmth sprinkled in throughout.”

The writer-director also spoke about casting the films’ leads in Smith and Capri.

“I was so blessed and fortunate to have them,” the director explained. “Algee was the role we cast first, and it was difficult just because there is a balance in Brandon that was hard to attain, not only in performance and audition-wise, but just like the physical embodiment, the essence– he’s both fragile yet strong. That was something that we looked for a lot [with that] character because we wanted people to root for him and not feel like he’s just some like introvert in a shell and there’s nothing to kind of like gravitate towards. But we also wanted people to feel for him and know and see that there is a very, very sensitive person in there who is struggling.”

At the same time, it was important that the character of Brandon have that “leading man energy,” as Banks put it. “Algee really embodied all of that and it was very clear– I always knew it was him from the very first time I saw him. And Sierra was with us from the beginning too. In her audition, she came in dressed as the part, she had purple hair and such an edginess to her. She really shocked and scared us a little bit at just how callous but also interesting she was, because that’s the true nature of Cassidy.”

Young. Wild. Free. premiered Jan. 22 at the Sundance Film Festival and is awaiting acquisition.