Local Release

(CBC) How communities came together to bring the 'heartwork' of queer love story This Place to life

V.T. Nayani · CBC Arts ·

Devery Jacobs (left) and Priya Guns in This Place. (TIFF)

Cutaways is a personal essay series where filmmakers tell the story of how their film was made. This TIFF 2022 edition by V.T. Nayani focuses on her film This Place, a love story between two young women — one Iranian and Kanienʼkehá꞉ka, the other Tamil — as they navigate difficult family legacies.

This film almost never happened.

As most indie first-time filmmakers can attest to, finishing your first film is a feat unto itself. You face countless tests of faith during the process. Usually it's a lack of funds; often it's unexpected changes in the production process; much of the time it's doubt, anxiety, and imposter syndrome that stand in the way of getting things done.

Also, real life is always happening and stops for nothing. So often, you are forced to pause, sitting out a season or two; to bide your time quietly underground, facing your fears of failure and feelings of incompetency in your bed (while sobbing); and then, hopefully, collect yourself carefully and quietly before trying again. Sometimes it all feels futile. Other times, you feel oddly invincible.

It's safe to say I've run the gamut of emotions making This Place. I've felt all the feelings. I've made myself sick trying to make this movie, and healed right alongside our characters — life imitating art in too many ways.

I've been in the game, so to say, for 12 years now. It still feels wild to say that. When I started, I just wanted to be a storyteller. That was it. I dreamed of the privilege of telling stories for a living, making tender heartwork, and creating in collaboration with others.

But I wasn't always sure it was possible.

I wasn't always confident in my capacity or the potential of my voice. When I started, my voice was quiet with fear and quivering with doubt, often like I was apologizing for my own existence. $25,000 in debt, with a journalism degree I was afraid I'd never use, I did not imagine reaching here and now in this way. But somehow, by faith and often by force, we arrived at this moment in time. A sacred one. A sweet one. A surprise one.


Priya Guns in This Place. (TIFF)

I think it's important to also say that a fair level of fantasy got me here. I had to believe in a dream that often felt faint and far away, pushing at every stage through the few steps I could see in front of me, trying to get past multiple finish lines.

As we get ready to share this film with the world in this place, the place where we all first collided, I am also reflecting on what got me here in the first place. I am the daughter of two mighty-spirited and tender-hearted Tamil refugees. As members of a persecuted community, my parents escaped a decades-long armed conflict in Sri Lanka. They arrived in Toronto over 35 years ago — the place where I was born, raised, and still reside.

My lived experiences, and those of my elders, ground and motivate my work. My passion for storytelling is my greatest inheritance, birthed through a desire for generations of stories lost to us through conflict and displacement. As the daughter of displaced people, I have a specific sense of responsibility to not only document and preserve, but to collectively reimagine a present and future we can have a say in. This Place is part of that reimagining.

Every single time I reflect on how we fought to make this film possible, I think immediately about who we come from — all of us, the communities who made this film possible. And then I remember how it feels like we've been fighting forever. We, people who come from the global majority, who have seen and faced more than most can imagine, who have kept our light alive amidst it all, through every attempt to dim our life force, to shut down the continuation of our stories and legacies.

This is not to glorify our grief or struggle. I never want to do that, because for me, there is absolutely no glory in our oppression. But there is unmatched glory in us, in who we are and who we come from. By some force both beyond us and within us, we've managed to make so much of life despite how much our lives have been disrespected, disregarded, and discarded by those outside our communities.

Devery Jacobs in This Place. (TIFF)

Along the journey of making our film, we did not have the luxury of lots of money or unwavering support. We fought for everything we got. We became the unwavering support we needed, pushing the boundaries of what was possible, making our dreams come true out of the deep desire to do so. We did this, because this is who we are and who we come from. We come from mighty and powerful people, people who have been tried and tested, people who have survived and thrived in the face of everything. We stand on the shoulders of giants who've come before us, creating this film as a pathway to those who are still amongst us and a portal to those who will come after us.

For me, life is a continuous series of moments — some with the potential to change everything. My family's arrival here in Toronto was one of those moments. This film is a direct result, in its own way, of my beautiful parents' decision to leave another place no longer safe for them and arrive here, searching for some semblance of perceived safety.

With unshakeable love for who, what, and where we come from, this film is truly a multi-generational story, featuring faces we certainly don't see enough of and especially not together onscreen. Centering our desire to tell stories from the perspectives of Indigenous and immigrant communities like ours, we focused on creating a wholly authentic narrative that emerges from a city like ours, where countless histories and legacies intersect.

This Place is a deeply personal film, by and about those who are both indigenous to this land and those who have arrived here as refugees. It is a film about the displacement that so many of us have endured, and the real-life stories of families affected by the unique grief of migration and separation. It is also, ultimately, a story of how we come together, however complicated those intersections and interactions may be.

This Place. (TIFF)

This film was conceived, nurtured, and birthed by a team led largely by Black, Indigenous, and other folks of colour. It is a film by and for queer folks. It is one where women are at the helm, leading the way forward, through tough fog and with tender fury. It is inspired and informed by our communities. And it was made, first and foremost, for our communities. It is for our young, our elders, and our ancestors alike. It is a story of love, in all of its manifestations. It is a film born out of and seeking to create more space for love, in this increasingly frustrating and maddening world. It is hope in the face of heartbreak, faith in the face of fear, and joy in the face of grief.

This film is what it is today because of all the individual people who collectively poured into it — together, with love. And I am grateful to and for each and every one of them. I am here because of a community of people who came together, at different moments along a difficult journey, to create something by us and for us.

I hope that when folks watch and witness this film, they feel the immense privilege of being let into our lives, our communities, and our stories, for a brief moment in time. Because truly, it is a privilege to be amongst us. It's certainly been the greatest privilege of my lifetime to create This Place, in this place, with these people.

This year's Toronto International Film Festival runs September 8–18. Find showtimes for This Place here.


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