Here at The Last Movie Outpost, we may spend a lot of our time talking about movies where stuff gets blown up real good, but we are a broad church. If it has been filmed, we are into it. So when we got the chance to interview up-and-coming director Gabriela Ledesma about her new movie The Last Conception, we knew this was a job for our special correspondent KnittingKnerd.

After many well-received short films such as Cutter and Absence, Gabriela made an immediate impact on the festival circuit with her first full-length feature Blue. This won over 30 prizes including numerous Best Picture and Best Director awards.

Born in Rio De Janeiro as recently as 1988 (yeah, we feel old too!) she moved to the USA at the age of 16 and served in the US Navy.

With a resume that includes associate, bachelors and masters degrees in film-making and the co-creator of her own production company, Poison Pictures, she’s on our “One To Watch” list here at the Outpost.

Her new movie stars Nazamin Mandi and Callie Schuttera. It is billed as an LGBT romantic comedy. In The Last Conception the Sikand family learns that their only hope of continuing their “ancient bloodline” is their skeptical gay daughter Savarna. Here’s the trailer:

Over to KnittingKnerd to chat to the director herself, Gabriela.

Hi Gabriela, welcome to The Last Movie Outpost. You’re a US Navy vet, thank you for your service. Did your experiences in the Navy help shape how you direct movies? Or your work discipline in civilian life?

“Absolutely. I definitely love having fun on set, but I also run a pretty tight ship. I’ve always been pretty disciplined though, even as a kid, so I’m not sure I can blame it entirely on the military.”

I started the book this movie is based on. In the source material, it looked like Savarna had a complex relationship with multiple love interests. In the movie, within minutes we know “Charlie.” Why did you simplify that aspect of the story?

“There were a couple reasons actually- I felt like Savarna’s other relationships (and her struggles In choosing one person) were distracting from my favorite central storylines. It’s hard to get excited about Charlie and Savarna’s life together if you, as the audience, know that Savarna wasn’t always invested in it. This is also my first time directing LGBTQ material and I wanted to make sure that we weren’t sending a message that gay automatically means being promiscuous. I wanted the audience to root for Charley and Savarna from the start without second-guessing.”

The movie is about complex relationships: siblings, parental, spousal, relationships with faith and children, and then Savarna coming out (which I loved how she did that). As a filmmaker, what were you most excited to show? Which relationship did you want to dig deep and explore?

“I really love the family dynamic. It’s what initially drew me to the story. I find the parents in particular, Davidia and Mira, to be so charming- they’re caring and sweet, but also stubborn, and petty on occasion which makes for some hilarious moments. I fell even more in love with these two characters when we cast Marshall Manesh and Veena Bidasha in the roles. I had wanted to work with Marshall for a long time and it turned out he and Veena knew each other! They had already played a married couple in a different project, so they were immediately comfortable with each other and created some of my favorite moments in the film.”

The story is about a first-generation immigrant family in Southern California. Was this something you related to?

“Not much to be honest. Of course I’m also a first-generation immigrant and I can relate to having a “minority culture” and things like that, but there are vast differences between their experience and mine. I didn’t have close family relationships to rely on when I moved to the states. A lot of my language and culture assimilation happened in the Navy. Even after my time in the service, I did a lot of moving around on my own, trying to find a place to put my roots. I think the beautiful thing about the Sikand family is that they have always rooted themselves in each other.”

This is your second film with Callie Schuttera. What was the experience working with her the second time on your second film?

“Well it’s definitely not just my second time working with her 🙂  Callie and I not only run Poison Pictures together in all aspects, but we’ve also been married since 2016! We are truly together day in and day out, between producing, writing and parenting- and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I couldn’t have done this movie without her.”

Nazanin Mandi, who plays the protagonist in the movie Savarna, she seems like such a delight. She reminds me a lot of Rachael Leigh Cook for some reason. How did you guys go about casting? Not only for Savarna, who needed to be relatable but also who you could relate to when she realizes she could be carrying the re-birth of Buddha but the rest of the cast? They really seemed like a small family.

“I totally agree! I’m still blown away by how much they look and feel like a family. As much as I’d like to take credit for Nazanin, our amazing casting director Sherrie Henderson brought her in on our last day of casting. The camera absolutely loved her.”

“As for the rest of the cast, we had our eye on Matt Richards to play Jackson early on. Matt is the host of the popular trivia app HQ TRIVIA and at some point we realized we were subconsciously writing with his voice in our head. He has incredible comedic timing and literally had the cast and crew rolling on the floor with laughter by the end of the shoot.
Mike (played by newcomer Josh George) is another one of our favorite characters. His scenes with Chitra (played by Lovlee Carroll) still make me laugh out loud. And of course Mira (played by Veena Bidasha) takes you all over the spectrum. She’s so hilarious as an overbearing mom but also breaks your heart as you watch her grow as a person.
The cast and crew was rather small that I think that intimacy translated on screen.”

Director Gabriela Ledesma

I really enjoyed how there was a lot of talk of adoption versus IVF versus “the natural way.” And I got kinda teary when it’s discovered that Chitra’s daughter, Amaya, is possibly the reincarnation of Buddha. Was there any talk about not having IVF or adoption (or heck being barren) as part of the storylines in order to streamline the movie?

“Never. Callie and I felt like this process and discussion of adoption/ IVF was central to the original story. If anything we probably talked about making those themes MORE central; Callie is also very passionate about promoting adoption as a mainstream option for having children and I think the ending we constructed with Gabriel really embodies that.”

Gabriela, thanks for taking the time out to talk to us!

The Last Conception is distributed by High Octane Pictures and California Pictures. It has just been released on numerous platforms Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Fandango, YouTube, Rodgers and Google Play.

KnittingKnerd’s review is on its way soon.