The last time SNACK spoke to Etienne Kubwabo it was to talk about the comic book series Beats of War, which introduced readers to DJ E.T., Scotland’s first Black superhero. At the time Etienne admitted that film was his first love and where his ultimate ambitions lay.
The Difference Between Us is his first feature as writer/director, and it’s just about to arrive in selected cinemas. SNACK spoke to Etienne about this very personal project and the story behind it.
What can you tell us about The Difference Between Us?
The Difference Between Us is a crime drama that follows Alex Watson, a young Black man, raised in the secluded Highlands of Scotland by two white adoptive parents. When Alex leaves his protective bubble behind to attend university in Glasgow he moves in with siblings Michael and Laura.
As the trio grow closer their pasts and prejudices threaten their new relationships, and Alex must learn what being Black in the modern world truly means.
It’s a film which is very personal to you. For that reason, was it difficult for you to make, and now you have, does it make you reflect differently on your own story?
The film was very hard to make because I had to deal with parts of my life that were being replayed on set. For instance, the scene with Alex and his adoptive parents; it was emotional to shoot, but I always tried to hide my emotions so the rest of the crew didn’t know what I was dealing with mentally.
Filming this movie made me embrace my fears, insecurities, and made me feel more comfortable to speak to my stepmother [who is also a producer on the film] and tell her how appreciative I was of her. I grew up distancing myself from her, but I feel that I am coming out of my shell and embracing all the love she has given.
Making and producing a film involves a number of collaborations. Can you talk a bit about who else is involved, and how the collaborative process worked?
I love collaboration, and I wouldn’t have done this film without the support of Nick Ikunda [producer], Rose Sehakizinka [producer] and Craig Andrew Mooney [producer/co-writer].
I think making a film is like building a house and everyone passes on a brick to help to build it properly. Initially, everything starts with the script, so when the first draft was done Craig got involved in rewriting and restructuring it properly and I started having meetings with my director of photography [Luis Maurizzio]. I absolutely love the whole process. [I’d like to say] thanks to all the 60-plus amazing people involved, too.
What is it like to have to cast a film, especially one which is in no small part inspired by your own life?
Casting is a big, and long, process. I put up a post on a Scottish filmmakers group and the response was phenomenal. After we had cast everyone else we spent months trying to find the right person to play my character. It’s hard finding people of colour in Scotland who are actors and are part of this industry. It must have taken me about three months until I found Wam Siluka Jr. who plays Alex Watson in the film.
Have you had any response from audiences yet, and what do you hope they will take from the film?
The few people who have seen it love the story and how it touches on important issues of racism, what it’s like to be a Black man in the modern world, and the stereotypes and assumptions that are given to us. This can be especially true with regard to people of colour who have moved to, or been born in, the Western world.
My hope is that people realise that there is no difference between us. We are all human and we have to work on closing the gaps that try to separate us.
Where will people be able to find and view the film?
The film opens to the public on 21st July at the CCA in Glasgow where it will be showing for two weeks. It will also be showing from 9th September in Edinburgh at Summerhall. The film is independent, so I am pushing hard to get it to audiences and we will keep announcing more cities as we go. Others confirmed are Gothenburg, Portland in Maine, LA, and London.
When I spoke to you previously it was about your comic book series Beats of War, which you hoped would be made into a film eventually. How is the series progressing, and do you still plan to adapt it for cinema?
I love the Beats of War comic book series and yes, I still plan to make that into live-action [film]. This is still in the works and we are getting the comic series out to build the audience and fanbase first. Making a superhero film requires a lot of resources. That’s why I am focused on getting The Difference Between Us out, and we will do a sci-fi thriller next. Then I will be ready for Beats of War.
I love a grounded superhero story so I am confident that, when I do it, it’s going to be one of the best superhero films out there.
You have said before that storytelling is at the heart of what you do. What is it about stories that make them so powerful?
I remember growing up back home, our grandmother used to tell us stories near the fire in the village, and even when you are seated there listening to a scary story, you are transported to another dimension. It’s scary and exciting at the same time.
For me, it’s about escapism. As humans we are so caught up in work, or there are to o many things going on in the news. But when you switch off and get taken on the journey of a story, you come back to reality as a different person, and perhaps transformed to be a better human.
When we watch stories, it’s about enriching your life, and this is a journey of adding meaning, improving the quality, and making life a joyful experience. I hope that if people make a commitment to watch The Difference Between Us then their lives might be transformed.
The Difference Between Us will be at the CCA Glasgow from 21st July till 5th August, and at Edinburgh’s Summerhall from 9th till 15th September
Main photo credit: Simon Forsythe