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SAN SEBASTIAN 2023 Competition

Isabel Herguera • Director of Sultana’s Dream

"Animation can be an extraordinary tool to build stories for adults"


- The Basque filmmaker talks to us about her references and the process of creating her first feature film

Isabel Herguera  • Director of Sultana’s Dream

Basque filmmaker Isabel Herguera talks to us about her references and the process of creating for her first feature film, Sultana's Dream [+see also:
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, the first European animated film to be selected in competition at the San Sebastian International Film Festival.

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and Sultana’s Dream puts the spotlight on adult animation in the Basque Country. Do you think that things are changing in this sector in the Basque Country? And in Spain, with films from Pablo Berger and Fernando Trueba?
Isabel Herguera
: In the Basque Country there has been a tradition of independent, animated films made by artists like José Antonio Sistiaga, Ruiz Balerdi, Juan Carlos Egillor and Bego Vicario. Almost at the same time, Juanba Berasategi laid the foundations of what has become the animation industry in the Basque Country. One form grew alongside the other. This has created a very open and collaborative way of making and understanding animated films. The fact that directors such as Fernando Trueba and Pablo Berger direct animated films helps the public to understand that animation can be an extraordinary tool for telling stories for adults.

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This is your first feature film, although you have an extensive career in short films. What made you take on this new format?
I think it was innocence and ignorance that made me think I could make a feature film. It's my first film and the financing wasn’t easy, it’s costly, animation requires a lot of manpower and the money doesn't always come when it's needed. But El Gatoverde Producciones, Abano Producións, Uniko and Fabian&Fred GMBH did a great job. The production methodology of a feature film is very different from that of a short, I had to learn to delegate and not try to have absolute control over every aspect of the production.

The film is very beautiful and very complex from an artistic standpoint. What different techniques have you used and why?
I used three different techniques to visually separate the three stories. Inés's journey is in watercolour, the technique I usually use in my own notebooks. To recreate the life of Begum Rokeya Hossain I used cut-outs to achieve the ambiences of a shadow theatre, a very popular form of entertainment in India at the start of the 20th century. Finally, the Mendhi or temporary henna tattoo, to illustrate the women’s country, which is a tradition of painting and decorating a woman's body on the eve of her marriage. Because of its symbolic value, I thought it was the perfect choice.

The film is based on a story from the Indian oral tradition. What kind of structure have you created from the script for the film and how did you manage it?
I wrote the script with Gianmarco Serra, a partner in life and adventure. Gianmarco loves words and I love images. It all stems from the same foundation, the personal journey, working with women's groups in India, and the desire to depict the figure of Rokeya Hossain. The film grew like a wild shrub where episodes blossom in the most unexpected places. Some scenes were painted before writing them, others emerged in the writing, others from documentary material we had recorded over the years Gianmarco and I have spent in India. We kept changing the texts, the backgrounds and the editing until the last few days. Efraim Medina Reyes helped us to organise the ideas and add the key scenes in the last stage of the process.

There are four major cameos in the film. Mary Beard and Paul B. Preciado appear as animated characters with their own voices. And two great Basque entertainers, Begoña Vicario and Izibene Oñederra. What do their presence and work add to the film?
They are all there for an emotional reason. I am a big fan of Mary Beard. I read her text on women and power and thought she should be in the film. Paul B. Preciado gave a conference in Donosti that discussed utopias, and his words helped me to explore the paradoxical sense of the feminist utopia presented by Rokeya Hossain. Another important character is Agnes' father, Roberto Bessi, a producer of the legendary Italian series Sandokan, which was made in India in the 1970s. Roberto is a magnificent dreamer and he had to be in a film about the importance of dreams. Bego and Izibene are artists who inspire my work, friends and people I deeply admire and love. I wanted them to be with me on this adventure.

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(Translated from Spanish by Vicky York)

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