Fresh off a world premiere, Abba T. Makama’s “Green White Green” screened at the 24th New York African Film Festival at Lincoln Center.
In “Green White Green” three young guys–one Hausa, one Yoruba, and one Igbo–in the stagnant months before heading off to university, decide to make a short film, inspired by a fictional novel about Nigerian history.
We meet Uzoma (Ifeanyi Dike), an artist who splatters paint like a wannabe Jackson Pollock; Baba (Jamal Ibrahim), a rich boy whose parents want to send him abroad to study; and Segun (Samuel Robinson), a city boy who dreams of a better life in New York, egged on by his scheming elder brother. They spend their days playing video games or competing in impromptu yab-offs, improvised insult matches where the yab that gets the most laughs determines the winner.
Among the three of them, they have a hard time getting ahead in Lasgidi, a city whose 21 million population is always hustling. Self-taught painter Uzoma struggles to sell his work on the street, and will readily wait all day at a local art gallery for a chance to speak with the owner. Segun gets caught up in one of his brother’s get-rich-quick schemes, packing all his bags for what later turns out to be a fictitious trip to the United States.
Baba comes up with the idea to make a film to show his parents he can be a successful film producer, so they’ll take his artistic aspirations seriously and won’t send him off to school. But at first, his friends are skeptical.
“Baba is always coming up with one half-assed idea after the next,” Segun says.
But then they come up with some ideas: a coming-of-age movie, a montage, a little of this, a little of that, maybe a guy running through the bush rescuing a girl, some military commandos, guns, artwork, and props. It’ll be amazing or total shit and, at the very least, their last hurrah before heading off to school. If inexperience is a barrier, then persistence and fearless ambition are their secret weapons.
On the surface, the film’s premise is hilarious, with lead actor Ifeanyi Dike delivering a solid performance. As a social satire, “Green White Green” asks the question: What does it mean to be Nigeria? Is it the Civil War? Nollywood movies? Street hustlers?
The mishmash montage style of a film-within-a-film feels fresh coming out of Nollywood–the Nigerian movie industry, based in Lagos–and the comedy genre is box office gold in Nigeria.
But it takes a while for the film to get going, with the first hour feeling like it could have been boiled down to a solid twenty minutes. The writing and editing is a bit bloated, fostering bumpy performances and scenes, and the production value is uneven, with sound, lighting, consistency of camera work, and color grading all over the map.
“Green White Green” director Abba T. Makama received a Project ACT-Nollywood grant to fund the film. The objective of the government grant is to “encourage the sustained growth of Nigeria’s movie industry so that it realizes its full potential to be a significant creator of employment and considerable contributor to national GDP by addressing some of the challenges currently facing the industry.”
From a funding perspective, the projects of highest interest seem to be those that promote and elevate Nigerian culture and greatness at large. Makama reportedly adjusted some elements of the script to make it more favorable to the government, and chose the patriotic title in reference to the Nigerian flag.
But while that’s great for funders, the meta-question of “Green White Green” is whether or not Nollywood films–low budget, shot quickly, briskly edited, and sent to market–work at all for cinema audiences, both in the West and at home in Nigeria. Increasingly, budgets and production values are rising, and audiences’ eyes and patience are tiring of the same old industry content.
Failing mastery of film language, the brilliant premise of “Green White Green” fell short on delivery, though ostensibly it had all the elements of a great movie.
All that being said, the film will make its festival rounds and leave many critics scratching their heads. It’s also liable to give rise to a wave of spoofs, as other filmmakers probe the deeper questions of Nigerian films and history.
In the end, “Green White Green” is a film about making a film that leaves viewers trying to make sense of it all.