Esther van Messel, CEO
Born 1965 in Vienna, lives in Switzerland and holds a Bachelor's degree in film & television production and in history from the University of Tel Aviv. In 1990, she joined Warner Bros. Israel and became Head of Distribution. From 1992 she produced international feature films and documentaries as Head of Co-Production and Sales for an independent production company in Zurich. In 1998, Esther van Messel founded her own company First Hand Films in Zurich and Berlin for world sales of documentaries and fiction films. First Hand Films acts as executive producer for selected projects. Esther van Messel has been working as a lecturer and consultant for various organisations like EAVE Brussels, IDFA Forum Amsterdam, Cinemart Rotterdam, Eurodoc Paris, Avea Johannesburg, Eureka Warsaw and Tallinn, Another Finland, TV Media Business School Barcelona, Discovery Campus Munich, F&S Screen Training Ireland, the Filmacademy Ludwigsburg, the Erich Pommer Institut and the Austrian Parliament, a.o. She was an appointed member of the Selection Committee for the Austrian Film Institute and served on several juries like Golden Link EBU and Nordisk Filmpanorama. Since 1999 she co-owns Vertical Strategy Ltd. in Leipzig together with Björn Koll from Edition Salzgeber Berlin. Esther van Messel is fluent in English, German, French, Dutch, Hebrew, and not yet in Danish. Since 1992 and 1995 she is raising a daughter and a son. She rides a Hornet 900.
Gitte Hansen, Sales & Acquisition
Born on the rocky island of Bornholm, Denmark, Gitte Hansen lives in Switzerland since 2000. In Zurich Gitte worked with international distribution of feature films and started in 2002 at First Hand Films, where her work includes project development, financing & packaging, marketing strategy, executive producing, sales and acquisition. Previously Gitte has worked with inhouse factual production at DR-TV, she was Head of Information and Promotion with Filmkontakt Nord for five years in Copenhagen, coordinator of the Nordisk Forum for Co-financing of Documentaries, and has worked for the former MEDIA project DOCUMENTARY, which included the first edition of the EDN TV Guide and a study on the European Documentary sector regarding co- production and film financing. She has joined Vertical Strategies, Eurodoc session, Transmedia Next and is a consultant and lecturer at local and international workshops and events where she works for colleagues like EDN, Eurodoc, IDFA, Crossing Boarders and Ex Oriente. Gitte has served on several international film festival around Europe and holds a master in Film and Rhetoric from the University of Copenhagen.
Nicole Biermaier, Swiss Distribution & Sales
Born 1971 to a French speaking mother and a German father, lives and works in Zurich. Nicole spent some significant years of working and wandering in London and Paris. She holds a Master of Arts and studied in Zurich at the Media Art department where she focused on interactive video, film, text, sound and experimented at the Film Department with 16mm essay film. At the University of Arts & ZKM in Karlsruhe it got even better, and she focused on experimental, essayistic documentary film. 2008-2010 Nicole researched at the Master class of Fine Arts within the field of expanded cinema. Throughout all of that, Nicole earned her living in a number of well-known international companies with administrational work. She used the knowledge gained in such an economical environment for her production work within the arts. Since 2000, Nicole has been developing and conducting many works in the field of art, theatre or film. Her projects have been exhibited and screened internationally. At the same time she was teaching and mentoring at the Universities in Bern and Zurich. Since June 2015 Nicole is part of the team at First Hand Films. She is happy to say goodbye to a time where earning money consisted of having 7 jobs or projects simultaneously and has many ideas for a fruit- and colourful future at the firm.
Ioanna Lazaridou, Office Manager
Born and raised in Greece, lives in Switzerland since 2005 and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Greek Literature from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. After several years of teaching she gained important experience in administrational work as Operations Assistant Manager for a successful international company for seven years. She likes numbers, that’s why she attends an accounting training. Since August she works at First Hand Films and is excited to be a part of the film industry’s world and learn a whole lot of things about it. (Her real intention is to meet Brad Pitt or Leonardo Dicaprio, but her boss should better not become aware of that!)
Milena Stokar, Sales & Production
Raised between Zurich and the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, Milena Stokar holds a BfA in Communication Sciences and a Cutter Diploma from the International Academy of Audiovisual Sciences (CISA) in Lugano. After a couple of internships in the film industry, mostly in Zurich and mainly in production, she went for a Master of Arts in Cultural Studies, majoring in Ethnology, at the University of Lucerne, Switzerland. In the meantime, she worked at the Swiss Italian public broadcasting company RSI in Lugano, first as a production assistant and then as Documentary Buyer at the Culture Department. In 2017, after ten years at RSI, Milena decided to move back to Zurich and to work as Sales Manager and Junior Producer at the international distribution and production company First Hand Films. Her Jack Russell terrier Zora accompanies her to work almost every day. After all, that’s the only kind of dog ever to win an Academy Award.
Aline Schlunegger, Swiss Distribution
Aline joined First Hand Films in July 2016. She was born and raised in Zurich to French-speaking parents. After finishing high-school she spent her gap year working days at insurance companies and nights at bakeries to finance a three month stay in beautiful New York. There, she visitied famous film spots in real life. After finishing her bachelor degree in Film studies and English Literature and Linguistics at the University of Zurich she wanted to catch a glimpse behind all the theoretical aspects of film she has read about during her studies. Aline has always felt passionate about films since she was little and convinced that Disney’s “Little Mermaid” was actually about her. Today she appreciates films causing goosebumps and conveying important messages to their audiences. Learning new things every day at First Hand Films, she’s very happy to have the opportunity to contribute to distributing such films to a broad public.