German animation studio Fabian & Fred has boarded Spanish director Isabel Herguera’s animated feature “Sultana,” which is set between a fictional feminist utopia and India under British colonial rule.
The Spain-Germany co-production is inspired by a feminist utopian book “Sultana’s Dream,” written in 1905 by Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain, a Bengali female activist from a village in British India.
The two partners are in talks with an Indian partner to join the film, and Herguera is working with Indian animators.
The producers are Sultana Films (Gianmarco Serra), El Gatoverde Productions (Chelo Loureiro), and Fabian&Fred (Fabian Driehorst).
Herguera’s film, which is in pre-production, asks the question: What would it be like to live in a world where women play the roles of men, and vice versa?
“Sultana” follows Ines, a Spanish artist in her twenties, who discovers Hossain’s book “Sultana’s Dream.” Hossain’s story is set in Ladyland, a place where women call the shots, while men live in segregation and take care of household chores.
Ines travels to India to look for traces of the author. The film is aiming for an early 2023 release date with a world sales, finance and broadcast partners in talks.
Putting women and colonialism in the spotlight again is a second Fabian & Fred feature, set to be directed by the company’s co-founder Frédéric Schuld.
“Alia’s Secret” is an 80-minute animated film, which will mark Schuld’s feature debut. Schuld is co-writing the script with Esther Kaufmann.
The story follows a migrant bird boy and his little sister who escape the fish’s kingdom by boat to look for their lost mother. It is inspired by the true story of the Princess of Zanzibar, who fled her country as a young woman to start a new life in Hamburg.
Fabian & Fred is in the scriptwriting process and looking for further development funding and co-production partners for this Stop-Motion film in 3D. The film is planned to be released in 2026.
The company has been active at Europe’s summer film festivals, and most recently presented the animated short “Night” (pictured), by Palestinian director Ahmad Saleh, in Locarno. The film follows a mother whose child is missing in the war.
These three films each put women at the center of their stories.
“Most of our previous films were dealing with very specific observations about people or society, often dealing with strong women and weak men. Whether it was a female artist who is face-blind talking about her childhood where she was bullied because nobody actually knew this syndrome. Only with art could she learn to deal with her disability and start recognizing herself,” Driehorst tells Variety.
He adds: “Our upcoming slate of projects is also dealing with topics that are not necessarily common for animation features, but we see that as a chance to stand out. Our female leads and diverse cast represent the stories we ourselves are interested in, told in a unique and adventurous way.”
Fabian & Fred is breathing new life into Germany’s staid animation industry.
Driehorst says: “From our perspective, animation is quite conservative in Germany. For an adult audience, animation is barely produced and has a hard time getting distributed. The most successful German animation films are CGI films for a family audience, mostly based on popular books/IPs. Original stories are quite rare but there were some exceptions in the last few years.”
It has found industry backing. “Alia’s Secret” has been awarded monies as part of a slate development fund 3×3 by state body MOIN Film Fund Hamburg Schleswig Holstein.
“In terms of stories and more complex characters, I think there is much to explore in Germany in the future. It’s the same I feel for animation techniques and style. We rarely see films where a director’s style or a unique voice in storytelling is visible,” he adds.