Company Profile

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

First Hand Films is an award-winning interna1onal sales company, a theatrical distributor in Switzerland’s four language regions and a producer based in Zürich.

Run by Esther van Messel since 1998, FHF finds partners, finance and deals with the entire production process. FHF has sold thousands of licenses worldwide, turned over more than twenty million Euro and its films have won many awards including Emmies, Golden Roses and Oscar Nominations.

FHF works with ambitious and accessible projects worldwide, combining intelligence, practical knowledge and experience. Today, First Hand Films have been seen by hundreds of millions of people all over the world, in cinemas, on TV and online.

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 a 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 distributors, sales agents and producers, with access to talent, story architects, directors, producers, broadcasters and funding bodies. We find the partners and the finance and simply make things work. We have sold hundreds of licenses, turned over more than ten million Euro, solved zillions of problems, and we remain autonomous.

In Switzerland, we operate as theatrical distributors for ficton and documentaries, releasing around half a dozen films a year, from Swiss films to Cannes Caméra d’Or Cannes and Oscar winners.

We took BURMA VJ to the Academy Award® nomination in 2010, and in 2014, we received 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), Katrine Thuesen (office management), Aline Schlunegger (executive assistant), Shan Guo (materials)

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 new media. 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, Nejlix, 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, Roferdam, Locarno, Pusan, Sundance, Tribeca, Toronto and many others. FHF’s very first pick-up 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.