First love is often portrayed in films as all-consuming. But coming of age is more than just falling in and out of love—there is an overwhelming rush of decisions and changes, all happening at once. Toronto filmmaker V.T. Nayani’s feature debut This Place offers a genuine and heartfelt portrayal of the stress and elation and introspection that comes with this stage of life, through the eyes of two young women in Toronto who fall in love while each on their own complicated journeys.
Co-written with Golshan Abdmoulaie and Reservation Dogs star Devery Jacobs, This Place is a rich, tender and nuanced queer love story. The film captures how intense and formative the connections you make at this age can be, but also the personal growth that happens when those relationships don’t derail your own journey, but instead ground it and enrich it.
This Place tells the love story between Malai (Priya Guns), a Tamil woman, and Kawenniióhstha (Jacobs), a half-Mohawk, half-Iranian woman. Kawenniióhstha comes to Toronto to search for her estranged father, hoping to connect with him and her Iranian heritage, while Malai tries to reconcile with her own ill father. The life-changing events that transpire threaten to pull apart their blossoming relationship.
Nayani wanted the film to embrace the duality of joy and grief, the messiness of experiencing love while also on a tumultuous personal journey—and how one can influence the other.
“I think that’s what this film is about. It’s this youthful idea of like ‘I’m falling in love and I’m gonna also now go and confront all these really hard things because I feel really strong and powerful. But oh wait, everything is kind of messy.’ Nothing is perfect, but there’s beauty in all of it.”
There’s a compelling scene in This Place that showcases this duality: sparks fly between Kawenniióhstha and Malai, as they reveal more to each other about their identities, hinting at some complex issues they’re reckoning with individually. They both come in with assumptions about the other—they don’t know or say all of the right things at first. But they meet each other with patience and understanding, and their vulnerability ultimately allows them to bond.
Nayani tells me this scene was reflective of conversations she had while learning more about her co-writers and their communities. “We all grew up in our own bubbles, whether it’s Kahnawà:ke or Scarborough, we grew up in our own places and sometimes when you live in those bubbles, that’s all you know,” she says. “We really wanted to be honest and playful and uncomfortable, explore what happens when you meet someone from seemingly such completely different walks of life, different experiences, different backgrounds, and then start to realize that there are things that connect us. But that involves being uncomfortable and vulnerable and open with each other.”
The film immerses audiences in so many of these authentic and vulnerable moments. Nayani attributes this to the trust and openness between her co-writers, describing the four-year writing process as “a collective unearthing and sewing together of different stories.” Everything in the film, she tells me, is informed by personal or family experiences—her own experiences in the Tamil community, Jacobs’ upbringing on an Indigenous reserve, and Abdmoulaie’s as a refugee from Iran.
“I think Tamil, Mohawk and Iranian are not your first assumptions of particular communities that come together…but that’s something that can only happen in a place like Toronto.”
Toronto is more than just a backdrop for This Place, it’s very much the heart of the film. Filming took Nayani and her crew all across the GTA, to recognizable city streets like Queen West and The Danforth, to Toronto landmarks like the queer bookstore Glad Day, and to smaller neighbourhoods across the city.
“To have the privilege of filming in a city that’s been my home and the site of my life and my stories and myself as an artist is such an incredible thing. It really does leave me in awe,” Nayani says. “Toronto made me who I am.”
Toronto is a place that sparks major life changes for both characters, where they find community, and where they fall in love. But it isn’t the only place the characters call home. We also witness the conflicted relationships Kawenniióhstha, Malai, and their parents each have with the idea of home—where it is, whether they want to go back, and what it means to them. Nayani says it’s no accident that This Place sounds a little like “displaced.”
“Toronto is a home for characters in the film, and at the same time, we’re looking at home as kind of this transient, ever-changing thing, this thing that’s almost untouchable in some ways. Like what does home mean in your heart? What does home feel like in your body?”
For Nayani, home is Toronto. Nearly a decade after inspiration first struck for the film, this week she finally gets to experience her ultimate full-circle moment—the premiere of This Place at home, in front of a sold-out theatre at TIFF. “All of us are really excited for This Place to actually premiere in this place,” says Nayani. “For us to be invited to have the premiere in the city where we wrote this film, which inspired the film, where we created the film, produced it, shot it—is such a beautiful and affirming experience.”