Nigerian newcomer Abba Makama makes a bold and brash debut with “Green White Green,” which will have its world premiere Wednesday in Torontos City to City program.
Drawing comparisons from festival artistic director Cameron Bailey to early Spike Lee, pic is a kinetic and colorful coming-of-age story about three young Nigerians from different backgrounds who band together to make a movie.
Makama describes the film as a “beautiful mosaic of madness” — a label that he says also fits his country.
“I consider it a painting,” he said. “It’s colorful. You have this collage of eccentric characters. The film is a reflection of Nigeria itself.”
“Green White Green,” which takes its name from the colors of the nation’s flag, examines what it means to be Nigerian by putting some of the country’s most persistent stereotypes through the ringer. Drawing its main characters from each of the country’s three principal ethnic groups, it finds fodder in the very divisions that have at times pushed the nation to the brink of disaster.
“I’m trying to put a mirror in front of us, to show that we are all the same, despite our differences,” Makama said.
An accomplished painter, the 33-year-old pursued his cinematic dreams after studying in the U.S., where he received an undergraduate degree at SUNY Fredonia, before studying film at NYU.
It was in New York that Makama said he found his voice as a director, while developing a strong conviction about his role as a Nigerian artist.
“They have this notion that all African people … live in huts,” he said of many of his peers in the U.S. “As an artist, I knew that I had to do something to destroy this perception of who we are as a people.”
When he returned to Nigeria, Makama found he could accomplish that through the lens of comedy, directing a string of satirical short films and a sitcom, “City Bishop.” He also helmed a 2014 Al Jazeera doc about the Nigerian film industry.
His experiences on two continents have no doubt helped to shape his distinct cinematic voice, which blends the energy and verve of Nigerian popular movies with the indie instincts of arthouse cinema.
“You begin to respect yourself more,” he said of his time abroad. “You respect your individuality. You respect the idiosyncrasies of your culture.”
In the process, he added, he’s been able to discover, “This is who I am. This is where I’m from.”