Interview: Director Caleb Slain and Star Nathan Nzanga Talk Their New Short ‘Enough’ and Making Authentic Art

Short films are often overlooked and just seen as stepping stones to something bigger. But so many times, short films can be game-changers — not just for a filmmaker or actor’s career, but society at large. Shorts can be powerful tools to inform and educate or entertain and inspire. I got the opportunity to check out over 40 of the short films selected to screen at this year’s Tribeca Festival. One of those films was the powerful social commentary, “Enough” directed by Caleb Slain and starring Nathan Nzanga. Way more than just an extended music video, “Enough” is a years-long journey through the eyes and thoughts of Nzanga as he grapples with acceptance and the state of race relations, fear, hate, the lack of communication, and empathy/understanding and policing in today’s world. Beautifully shot so that you don’t want to look away, coupled with the moving lyrics of Nzanga, “Enough” was hands down one of my favorites of the festival.

Luckily for me, I got the opportunity to sit down with the director and star to talk about how they came together to tell this story, what it was like to film something so personal and much, much more.

Nathan Nzanga

Musings: So Caleb, how did this project come about?

Caleb: I think that came from a few places — some of it was from a need — we’re both from a community and that sort of community was getting shut down. There’s a summer camp that we were a part of and that’s where Nathan and I got to know each other. So there was a desire to come together and work on this. We realized that someone that was a part of our community — Nate — had a lot that he was working through that last summer and had been working through his whole life. So we thought maybe this could be a time that even though everything seems negative — like having everything shut down — but it could actually turn out to be something much greater and better. It started as us saying ‘this is not a bad thing…we want to look back on this as one of the best things that ever happened so maybe let’s focus on someone within our group that we hadn’t focused on before.’ That was the beginning. Then personally, I felt like a lot of people have a lot to say in the realm of social issues and I can help them say it.

Musings: I must say that I watched it and I thought it was so good — it was hard to look away because you’re so immersed in this film for the entire 14 minutes. These last few years have been something else. And we’ve seen a lot of films that touch on racial issues, the police issues, politics — that sort of stuff. After a while it gets overwhelming. But I must say that this one didn’t feel that way — I definitely left it with at least a sense of hope that things could possibly change and get better. So, thank you for that.

Caleb: I feel exactly how you feel. I’ll be honest with you, I initially said no to doing this project. The camp was like ‘hey, you want to do this thing? Nate has this new track.’ At first, I was just going to help out. Then they were like ‘we need someone to direct, what do you think about that?’ I was like I don’t know about that — a) it’s just a lot of very touchy material and I don’t really need to go out and make statements, so to speak. But then after listening and talking to Nate, I realized that what scared me about it was that I don’t like political art — I just don’t. I like things that feel different. That was the scary part of it — getting into this place where you’re either saying this or you’re saying that, you’re doing this and you’re doing that. But after looking at Nate — his music and his life — it was like okay, this could work if we just focus on the humanity of the person and the humanity of the individuals. It transcends being just a political film. Nate, you and I talk about this a lot at the beginning, I’m sure you got something to share on that.

Nate: I definitely wanted to speak to everything that was going on –everything that was constantly in my face every single day since like middle school. Trayvon Martin passed when I was in middle school so these issues have been reoccurring for a very long time — it’s been reoccurring for as long as America has been a thing. So I wanted to speak on the subject when I first wrote ‘Truce.’ I just wanted to expand upon that because ‘Truce’ and ‘Enough’ were written in a five-year span. After the George Floyd riots, I just want to lean into it more. I’ve been doing the interview process (seen in the short) since I was 11. I just thought it was a cool idea to be able to watch myself grow up in whatever was going on in the world…seeing how my thought process changed.

Musings: You touched on the interviews — almost like a video diary — that you started when you were 11, how did that come about?

Nate: I’ve been doing a project called the 10,000 Days Project with this dude Nick Stephenson. He’s the director of the camp that we made the film at. He came to our elementary school one day and was like ‘who wants to do interviews, yearly?’ I thought that might be kind of cool so I applied and got in.

Musings: Very cool. So ‘Enough’ is definitely more than a music video — you guys take us on a real journey. How did you come up with the idea to visually present it in the way that you did? Did you draw inspiration from anything or is it just based on the lyrics and this is just how you saw it playing out?

Caleb: To be totally honest, Nate has his own story for writing the music. For me, the concept was pitched just like, ‘hey, we’re doing a video for two of Nate’s songs.’ Then he started telling me about some of the ideas — I’m gonna be honest, it didn’t sound like it was going to be very good. It was like kids holding protest signs and stuff so I was like I don’t know if you want to do that. But then I just sat down and listened to the music over and over again and I streamed the images that came up for me without really knowing what they mean or trying to put meaning into them. From there I bounced them over to Nate. Going into the project, there was a lot of uncertainty, a lot of not knowing exactly how things were going to fall, but I think through a lot of listening and touching base we got comfortable enough with the collaboration and were able to bounce ideas off each other — if we didn’t like something we could say so and not have to explain why and that was cool because we were working from two totally different sensibilities — artistically, spiritually, just from our whole lives — so I think it was just a trust of listening to our instincts, and trusting each other’s instincts. A lot of the imagery was just sort of what was happening in my soul, my whole being — listening to the music, running it back, cutting stuff that didn’t feel at home, adding stuff that we talked about. The spinal cord for this film was the interview footage –it’s the heart and soul. I think it’s a very, very brave thing to put that out there — if it were footage of me, I would probably not let that be included in the film — so I’ll leave it at that.

Director Caleb Slain

Musings: Next, I have a two-parter. Nate, was there any apprehension about releasing, or putting out that that footage for the world to see and Caleb was there any apprehension directing Nate in something that was so personal and vulnerable?

Nate: I knew that it was a possibility that they could do something with the clips, but I had zero interest at first. When I watched it back the first time, I was just like, I don’t want people to see that. But everybody kept on saying ‘that’s what makes it so real…that’s what makes it so huge and relatable. I was pretty honest in all those videos and I don’t think anybody would want their entire diary put out there like that. But I write music too, so I see music as being my diary entries too so if you’re willing to be vulnerable, what growth can that facilitate? Vulnerability, authenticity, and putting myself out there completely — those were the most real moments of the film.

Musings: Caleb, was there any apprehension in directing Nate in something so personal?

Caleb: I think the apprehension, to me, was more around the fact that when you’re making a project with a lot of heightened social pressure around it and a lot of strong opinions, that can invisibly steer your decision making in ways that are completely subconscious. It might be from fear and not wanting to offend someone or misplaced empathy or care. So I think that my fear was that these factors in the summer — there was so much going on in the dialogue in our country, I spent months having conversations with the black friends in my life leading up to this project. I was afraid that those things would kind of muddy getting Nate’s story right if that makes sense. There are factors in the air that could make it more about that than understanding what Nate’s experience has been like in his life and understanding what he’s trying to say as an artist and as a human being — what he’s trying to work out. We’re always trying to solve our shit in our art. As important as a lot of those discussions were, I didn’t want them to define what his story is because his story is so much bigger than that — that’s one part of it but he’s also got a gazillion other things to say. So if I was apprehensive of anything, it was holding on to the humanity at the center of it — not just Nate’s humanity but also the humanity that he was sort of exploring in his song of people that maybe he didn’t get along with or see eye to eye with.

Musings: What do you guys hope people take away from your film?

Nate: I hope people are willing to empathize with one another and willing to reflect on themselves — growing up and seeing where that could lead them to be later on. Watching my videos back, I was like ‘okay I can see that I’ve kept a certain amount of core values since I was 11’ — so tap back into 11-year-old Nate to continue striving and continue trying to be the best version of yourself. But yeah, I would say. Just find new ways to listen to one another, but at the end of the day still hold people accountable for everything that’s going on in this world.

Musings: Have you been getting any feedback from people who have seen the film so far — what are people saying about it? What have the reactions been?

Caleb: We released it before Tribeca — we released it at the beginning of Black History Month — and we were just like this is what’s important to us — important to Nate — and if we get into anything festival wise — obviously putting it out makes it harder to get programmed in festivals — that’s great, but if not that’s fine too because we just wanted to put it out there — it wasn’t about getting into festivals. Everyone’s super stoked that they’ve let us in under the circumstances. We did screen at a party here — this weird penthouse party we got invited to. It’s weird how it just sucks the air out of the room in a good way — it hits them in the stomach like a slow-motion punch that takes 13 minutes. It’s nice to see people just stop and feel and not think — there’s so much thinking about these issues — so with this, they just stop and feel something. You might not know what to do with that, or what it means, but you felt a lot. In the very beginning, we weren’t sure if we would have backlash over this or if this person would be mad about this, but we did a bunch of test screenings and ran it by friends to see how they responded. It was really interesting as we were finishing the cut to feel like, ‘Oh shit, there’s actually nothing to be afraid of here’ — some of our sensitivities were kind of in our head a little bit. Nate, you wanna speak on that?

Nate: Caleb and I were going back and forth on different ideas for the video for a while — ‘I don’t think this is going to resonate with these people…this is going to resonate with these people in a certain way. But we were always on some like, ‘we’re not making this for a moment, right now… this is what everybody’s talking about so this is what we’re doing type thing.’ We were always just on some ‘okay how are we making art that’s talking about moving forward?’ We wanted to make something timeless. But I think just sinking into the authenticity and sinking into finding out who I am and who I’m trying to be in the midst of all of this and not trying to defeat racism, or anything like that, with one 13 minute video. It was just how can we be the most authentic versions of ourselves and put that on screen? It resonates with people from all sorts of creeds, all different age groups, all different races — people just see the humanity in it and put the political part to the side — so it’s been super cool having a lot of people reach out just on some ‘yo, that resonated with me a lot.’

Musings: We’ll wrap with one last question — what are you working on next?

Nate: I’m working on a few projects. ‘Enough’ was the lead single to this album that I’ve been working on called ‘Accountabilabuddy.’ I’m trying to put that out soon. I’ve got a few other projects that I’ve been working on, but I’m just trying to get this music out and get these ideas out to as many people as possible.

Caleb: I’ve got a couple of scripts — I had written a couple of scripts before the pandemic happened that I was gonna start pitching but then all production was shut down. Then we did this project. I had one script in particular that I never thought could be a feature — I’d written it as a short — it’s a 23 page one scene sequence which has a crashing of class issues and the weird intersection of class and race in the country into a pretty shocking sequence of events. After finishing ‘Enough,’ I went back and was like if the script gets finished soon enough before Nate’s too old, he’d be perfect for it. Before doing this project, I had no idea how great of an actor he was, I just knew him as a musician and then you get this and I was like ‘holy shit.’ Nate was like, ‘oh yeah, I did theater and musical theater.’ So it was cool to be able to post that project and then be like ‘hey, there might be a chance to work together again on something.’ But the truth is after not working and writing for a couple years — and then another year of being on the pandemic thing — I’m just working right now. I’m directing a project for Red Bull at the moment and working on a couple other film things just to bring in some money and then I’m going to be back to the writing. That’s like a horrible answer, I’m sorry — the worst answer in the world.

Musings: Not at all! The pandemic has kind of slingshotted people in all sorts of different directions so it wasn’t a bad answer at all. Thank you guys for taking the time out to talk to me today. Definitely appreciate it. Enjoy the rest of your festival experience.

Caleb: Thank you for caring at all –it’s just a little film, but it means a lot.

Nate: Yeah, we appreciate you for having us, this has been great.

Caleb: Wish we could have met in person…next time.

Musings would like to thank Caleb Slain and Nate Nzanga for taking the time to speak with us.