Sultana's Dream Sultana's Dream

Cartoon Brew readers and animation festival regulars may by now be familiar with the name Fabian&Fred. The German studio has consistently produced strong, striking animated shorts — and the occasional feature — that serve as a counterpoint to the stream of family cg features made in its country.

A running theme in its work so far has been the experiences of women, and female directors are well represented in its catalogue, which includes Špela Čadež’s Steakhouse and the documentary Carlotta’s Face. As Fabian&Fred grows its slate, the focus on women — and now also non-binary identities — is apparent.

The studio has presented two features in development, Sultana and Alia’s Secret, as well as the series Vanja’s World. Read on for details of all three projects.

  • In the film, a young Spanish animator encounters Sultana’s Dream, a groundbreaking feminist utopian story written by Bengali activist Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain in 1905. She travels to India to find traces of Hossain, and makes interesting encounters on the way.
  • Sultana is directed and co-written by Isabel Herguera in her feature debut. The Spanish filmmaker has several acclaimed shorts to her name, including Under the Pillow, Ámár, and the Goya-nominated La gallina ciega. She worked for a decade in the L.A. industry.
  • The producers of the Spanish-German film are Gianmarco Serra for Sultana Films, Chelo Loureiro for El Gatoverde Productions, and Fabian Driehorst for Fabian&Fred.
  • The film is aiming for an early 2023 release. Producers are in talks with a world sales, finance, and broadcast partners, as well as with an Indian partner. Indian animators are involved with the project.
  • “It will become an auteur film in the best sense, written, painted, and directed in [Herguera’s] very own style,” Driehorst tells Cartoon Brew. “It’s a story about the struggles of a young woman finding her own place in the world. She is struggling between the role of men and women, where her coming out is the key for her liberation.”
Sultana Sultana
Alia’s Secret
  • The film is about a bird boy and his sister who flee the fish’s kingdom by boat in search of their mother. The story is inspired by the experiences of Salama bint Said, princess of Zanzibar, who fled her homeland for Germany in the 1860s.
  • The director is Fabian&Fred co-founder Frédéric Schuld, who is also making his feature debut. He is writing the script with Esther Kaufmann. Driehorst is producing.
  • Handmade set elements and materials will be scanned and combined with cg animation, as Driehorst explains: “The aim is to find a unique visual approach: the perfect marriage between an organic feel and a flexible cg workflow that heavily benefits from the newest developments in realtime rendering.”
  • With scriptwriting underway, the project is looking for more development funding and co-production partners. The release is planned for 2026.
Alia's Secret
Vanja’s World
  • The series is about the titular character, “who is not a boy, not a girl, but a tiger or a jellyfish or a mosquito,” Driehorst tells Cartoon Brew. “It’s about the non-binary child Vanja.”
  • Vanja embarks on a new philosophical journey in each episode, accompanied by her sister, who is strong but has poor eyesight, and a neighbor boy who’s an expert on superheroes. “We experience the importance of feelings of life and death, fairness, equality, truth, friendship, inclusion, and much more,” adds Driehorst.
  • The series is written by Marita Mayer. It is due to be presented next year at major pitching events.
Vanja's World

In recent years, Germany’s animation industry has found success in producing low- or mid-budget cg films for family audiences. Animation for adults, or with a novel stylistic approach, is rarer, and Driehorst has spoken about the difficulties of financing projects in the country that break the mold. He elaborates to Cartoon Brew:

I think when it comes to financing, animation is always big challenge. I would say even more challenging if it’s original content with an original visual approach. Nevertheless I think it’s a great time to write exciting stories for animation, and also explore new technologies and pipelines that can make animation even more affordable and offer more creative possibilities.

We’re surrounded by countries big or small with amazing talents, open for collaboration and co-production, so I’m very positive that we will find the right partners to make it happen.

Image at top: “Sultana”

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