The Rise Of Nnamdi Kanaga
Nnamdi Kanaga, a rising star, leaves indebile marks wherever he goes. From his huge impression at the university to clinching awards and recognitions in film, he talks with the Guardian Life about his Toronto International Nollywood Film Festival nominated film, Talisman, makeup, and African heritage.
Tell us about your background as an actor?
I was born in Lagos Nigeria. After the compulsory six years of secondary education, I decided to chase my dream- film. My father was completely against my decision to pursue a career in film but I was defiant. Against my father’s wish, I applied to the Department of Theatre and Film Studies at the University of Nigeria Nsukka and graduated four years later as the Best Graduating Student in my set. In between college, I hustled a lot in Nollywood. It was frustrating especially at a young age but somehow, I found some kind of drive to keep pushing.
I applied as an acting trainee at the Africa International Film Festival in 2015 and was selected as one of the best students. This came with a scholarship training that would take me to America. In the summer of 2018, I made a paradigm shift to the United States to chase a graduate degree in English and further my filmmaking career.
What made you fall in love with acting?
If I’d be very honest, I think I was born with drama engraved on my skull. In fact, my mum once told me that while she was carrying me, madmen often flocked around her on the streets, at the market Hahaha. Acting is my soulmate. I was gifted with the talent of acting and I have years of training and skills that have helped me harness this talent effectively. I remember the very first time I acted on stage. It was in church, Sunday school at NAF Protestant Church Ikeja. I played the “Good Samaritan” from the bible. I was supposed to help the stranger who was attacked by robbers and ignored by passers-by. I remember that performance vividly. I took off my shirt and used it to tie the stranger, completely improvised and prompted unconsciously. And that was it. I was the drama master in secondary school too. So really, I can’t say there was any particular incident that made me fall in love with acting because that love came with me, trademarked from heaven or wherever babies come from Hahaha.
As a makeup artist, what is your take on the make-believe effects in the new Nollywood films?
Special effects makeup is something I did for a while in Nollywood before I gave it up for what I truly love- acting and directing, but I’d say that there are a lot of improvements going on especially with emerging young artists.
Your debut film Talisman got selected at the Toronto International Nollywood Film Festival. What do you think helped with the selection?
Well, I can’t really say. Art is subjective and every jury has their peculiar reason to deny or accept a film at a festival, I think. But I’d chose to believe that the originality, relevance, creativity, artistic intentions and narrative of Talisman helped its official selection into the festival. It was a passion project and my directorial debut so I tried to be as authentic as I could with it.
Talisman is a deeply rooted African film. What was your intention with showing our roots to a foreign audience?
I really hate it when foreigners come to tell our story from their own perspective. I mean it is the myopic Eurocentric perspective of Africa that has kept us where we are today. As a filmmaker, I choose to tell my African/Nigerian/Igbo story the way I understand it. I want the foreign audience to listen and watch me tell my story and not the story that was told and perpetuated by colonizers. I want the foreign audience to respect my culture because when it comes from me it is different. It is intentional. It is powerful. The costumes I used in Talisman I got them from my village and took them with me. The incantations I used were words from my Ohafia dialect. These things may not be properly considered if Talisman were to be showcased by a foreigner. Showcasing our version of our own culture to the foreign audience gives us our power back and that’s what I wanted to achieve with Talisman.
What has Hollywood taught you that you’d like to see in the Nigerian Film Industry?
I have had the opportunity to be in few films as an actor since I moved here and also making a film, and one thing I have noticed in the filmmaking process is that the filmmakers are very intentional. I don’t know how to properly word this, but every aspect of a film should be intentional. Some Nollywood films lack intentionality. Sometimes filmmakers just throw in stuff without having a deliberate reason. And oftentimes it ruins the production. I’d like to see some filmmakers in Nollywood be more purposeful with elements in their films.
Do you see Nollywood competing with Hollywood?
Compete? Naaah. I don’t think there is any competition or need for any competition. Nollywood and Hollywood are two separate entertainment industries with unique attributes. Hollywood is older and technologically advanced, so putting Nollywood near it, in that light, I think is a little unfair. Nollywood has some growing up to do, and we are doing fairly well if you ask me. I respect Nollywood and I won’t compare at all with any other industry.
That said, Nollywood needs to be more intentional with the contents they put out. There is a lot of work to be done and I can’t wait to contribute my own quota to its growth.