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.”