Meet Mickey Youmans: award winning filmmaker and environmental activist
How long have you been living in Richmond Hill?
I first bought property here in 1977, and my wife and I built our house here on the Jerico River in 1996. I grew up in Savannah, but I came here to get away from the overcrowding in Chatham County.
Do you live right on the water?
Yeah, we have 300 feet of deep water and about 1,100 feet of creek behind the house. It’s a virtual wonderland of wildlife. We’ve had everything from beavers to roseate spoonbills, deer, bald eagles, otters and dolphins. It’s wonderful.
What do you do for a living?I’m in the film and television business. I started with my family in the sign business. I broke off from that and started up a company in Hilton Head called Graphic Systems. We created all the signs in that no neon, no wires style. That’s the way Richmond Hill should look, if you want to know the truth of it. We pioneered that style and were featured in a lot of magazines back in the seventies.
How did you wind up in the film industry?
Well, I’ve been a photographer since my late teens and I got into using 16 millimeter film to create real estate displays for people in Hilton Head, which I really enjoyed. I grew up watching Wild Kingdom and I had this dream to make wildlife documentary television. Although I haven’t been able to focus on wildlife primarily, I’ve filmed documentaries on sustainable green initiatives and issues. I’ve travelled all over the world and worked for just about every major network at least once. I’ve created many series of television. I’ve done a lot of military television. I did the one-hour special for A&E on the fiftieth anniversary of Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier. I had the great opportunity of being the producer in creating the audio/visual content for the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum. Recently I did a piece on mixed martial arts for HDNet. I worked for E!. The list goes on. My first love is documentary style television production. That’s what I like to do.
As you look back on your career, what are some of the highlights that jump out at you?
Early in my career, I was in Jamaica and met a BBC film crew. There was an election going on and there was a lot of political turmoil. The camera man got really ill and they wound up hiring me.
I helped start the television department at SCAD in 1983, and I worked there until 1989. After that, that’s when I really got into documentaries - in the early nineties.
I’m the guy that found the papers that identified the Tybee bomb as a live bomb and made the very first documentary on it that was distributed to 35 countries. It was never distributed here because we couldn’t get anyone in our government to talk about it at the time.
How did you get involved with environmentally-conscious projects?
Well, I just got fed up with selling television to networks and decided to create a non-profit organization called the Educational Media Foundation, which we used to produce and help young producers create content that has social value. For me, I think television is a medium that been misused. It’s driven by marketing to the point that we have 155 channels, but there’s very little worth watching. It’s such a great educational tool and should be used that way. This led to the creation of Farmers’ Almanac TV, which has been distributed to over 90 million homes. It got good ratings in all the big markets, but it’s on hold right now due to the economy limiting our sponsors right now.
You won a first place award at the Blue Ocean Film Festival this past weekend in Savannah. Tell me about that.
This was a world wide event – people from New Zealand, National Geographic, Discovery, BBC. The world’s best underwater cinematographers were here in Savannah. Dan Basta (NOAA Director) was here; the Cousteau family was here; Dr. Sylvia Earle (NOAA/National Geographic) was here – it was huge. I won best short film for a documentary on oysters. I was the only one from the Savannah area to take home an award. This film festival grew out of a sense of urgency. The need to protect the ocean is vital.
If you had one message you could get out in regard to the dilemma with our oceans, what would it be?
To pay attention. People have to throw all of their politic beliefs aside, start new and listen to people who know what they’re talking about. Stop listening to people on the radio and on TV that talk about stuff that advertisers pay them for. Turn it off. Seek out people that are real and find the truth.
The degredation of the ocean, when you look at the numbers, is staggering. You’re talking like 90 percent of some fish species gone due to over fishing and pollution. 70 percent of all the food that humans consume directly or indirectly comes from the ocean, so there’s no time to goof around here.
One of the hot environmental topics locally is the Liberty County Development Authority’s proposed wastewater treatment plant. Do you have an opinion on that?
I’ve worked with economic development authorities; I won an award for making the best economic development film in America for a film I shot in Savannah. I’m actually a member of the Coastal Estuaries Protection Association and I’m thinking about making a film about this whole thing. I’ve personally focused a lot of national and international attention on this thing. There’s a lot of people watching them.
There’s a moral responsibility for people in positions of power to protect their constituents. When you dump any sort of waste into the marsh, treated or otherwise, with stuff that can’t be treated like antibiotics and mercury, which can never be filtered out – it’s irresponsible and immoral.
- by Ross Blair