Company Profile

Dedicated Production and tailor made Distribution for every story in every medium everywhere.

We get to work when the good stories open up universes we never knew existed, when the story takes us through hell and back, when it walks rainbows with us, and we learn something about our complex and beautiful world. And when all emotions convey a statement, a political one, a human one, the filmmakers’ very own one. When there is authenticity in the plot and fantasy in the images. And when we come back to find a world that will never look the same again.

Accessible & passionate one-offs, features, series, slots, theme nights, trans-media. More than 300 hand-picked titles from all over the world in a constantly renewed catalogue.

We work as international distributor or as sales agent and we work as producers, with access to talent, story architects, directors, producers, broadcasters and funding bodies. As international and Swiss producers we initiate, co-produce, finance, pre-sell and handle projects, bridging content, market and financing, giving feedback on themes, papers, rough-cuts, put intensive work into teasers and trailers and generally look to upgrade projects whenever needed. We deal with the entire production process, be it as its ‘foreign ministers’ or as its producers, we handle commissioned programs and facilitate co-productions anywhere; also through our production outfit Kiss The Frog Films.

We work with ambitious and realistic projects worldwide, combining intelligence, practical knowledge and experience. We have sold hundreds of licenses, turned over more than ten million Euro, solved zillions of problems, and we remain autonomous.

First Hand Films operates as theatrical distributor in Switzerland since 2013 and has released a number of Swiss films as well as the Caméra d’Or Cannes 2013 (PARTY GIRL), CITIZENFOUR (Oscar Best Documentary) and its follower RISK.

We took BURMA VJ to the Academy Award® nomination in 2010, and in 2014, First Hand Films receives an Honorary Award by the MiradasDoc festival for “having been able to rejuvenate the language of documentary filmmaking and bring it closer to our living rooms.”

Esther van Messel (owner and managing director), Gitte Hansen (deputy director)
Nicole Biermaier (swiss distribution), Milena Stokar (production), Ioanna Lazaridou (office management)

The small print hard facts Since 1998, Esther van Messel runs FHF in Zurich and Berlin for international sales, distribution and production of documentaries, series, fiction films and transmedia. FHF acts as Executive Producer for selected projects and has worked with all major broadcasters (ABC, Arte, BBC, CH4, HBO, NHK, PBS, ZDF, a.m.o.) and distributors (Amazon, Netflix, Salzgeber, Magnolia, Participant, Oscilloscope, Dogwoof, MUBI, iTunes, a.m.o.) around the world. FHF is present at all major festivals around the year, with booths and stands at the main events such as the MIPs, La Rochelle, Sheffield, Amsterdam, Buenos Aires and Seoul. First Hand Films have competed in Cannes, Berlin, Venice, Rotterdam, Locarno, Pusan, Sundance, Tribeca, Toronto and many others. FHF’s very first pickup went on to receive the OSCAR® for Best Documentary Feature. Since then, most First Hand Films have won awards: Cinema for Peace, Emmy, Prix Europa, many of IDFA main awards, Biarritz, Banff, Grimme-Preis, Grierson, Grand Prix Nyon, many National Film Awards, European Film Awards, Silver Leopards, Golden Rose Montreux a.m.o.