Distributors, INTERVIEWS, NEWS — 11/17/2010 3:10 AM

Esther Van Messel (First Hand Films) “Asia is definitely on the rise and of high interest in Europe”

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As a CEO of First Hand Films, Esther Van Messel has distributed “Burma VJ” and is about to distribute a new doc about Burma, “Aung San Suu Kyi – Lady of No Fear”. She explains to us her interest for Burma and for Doc exchanges between Europe and Asia.


. Can you present your own story ?

I was born in 1965 in Vienna, i lived in Switzerland and i got a Bachelor’s degree in film & television production and in history from the University of Tel Aviv. Between 1990 and 1998, i worked for Warner Bros. Israel and for an independent production company in Zurich. In 1998, I founded my own company First Hand Films in Zurich and Berlin for world sales of documentaries and fiction films. First Hand Films can also act as executive producer for selected projects.

Why are you so interested by doc ?

I love stories, I love relevance, authentivity, and entertainment !

. You are the distributor of 2 docs about Burma (Burma VJ and the new one portray of  Aung San Suu Kyi). How can you explain your interest for Burma ? coincidence or willingness ?

We got involved with MAGIC HOUR FILMS about Burma VJ three years before its premiere, in December 2005. It’s a combination of knowing the director, the producer and not knowing nearly enough about the subject, Burma.

. How did you get the distribution rights for these two docs ?

As one of a few distribution boutiques internationally we are proud to have build a solid reputation. We also have worked with Magic Hour Films before, on IN A SOLDIER’S FOOTSTEPS. We started working with Helle Ulsteen from KAMOLI on the Aung San Suu Kyi – film in the course of the cooperation on BURMA VJ in which she was involved as well.


. What is the story of the Aung San Suu Kyi doc ?

It’s the story of an incredible access to the people around ASSK and an excellent editor. The personal portrait of the oppostion leader and Peace Nobel Prize winner is being completed now and has just premiered successfully at CPH:DOX.

. When will it be available for broadcasting ?

it will ready for international distribution within a few weeks. The film  has been already presold to half a dozen countries so far. The interest today is huge of course.

. Is it easy to distribute docs about Asia in Asia ?

Yes, it is rather easy – even if prices are not high.

. In which Asian territories did you sold Burma Vj rights in Asia ?

Without going into detail: practically all. In Japan, we sold the film theatrically but not to TV (yet).

. Do you think you will be able to sell the portray of Aung San Suu Kyi in Asia ?

Absolutely, interest is very large already.

. Do you have new doc projects in / about Asia ? Do you want to do more distribution of Docs about Asia ?

We are always looking for good films, no matter where from. For better access, we travel to Australia, Pusan, Hong Kong, and will continue to do so, to find the best talent.

. Do you see a stronger interest / growing demand in Europe for docs about Asia ? about which topics ?

A good film will always sell, it’s not a topical phenomenon. Asia is definitely on the rise and of high interest in Europe.

. Are you selling European docs in Asia ?

We sell all our films worldwide, in Asia to China, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore etc.

. How do you see the evolution of documentary production in Asia ?

There is a lot of work to be done re. project development and marketing, and we are happy to be part of it.

(Interview by mail on 16/11/2010)

About First hand Films

Year of creation :  1998
Nber of staff : 6
Catalogue (nb of docs in distribution since creation) : 300
Video channel : www.filmsbazaar.com
Email address contact

About “Burma Vj”



56/85 min., HD
A Magic Hour Films Production
by Anders Østergaard


About “Aung San Suu Kyi – Lady of No Fear”



52 min.
A Kamoli Films Production
by Anne Gyrithe Bonne

Doc presentation on First hand Films website


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Doc News / 1 - 15 December 2010
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Canadian Breakthrough signs Asian deals
New documentary focuses on Aftermath of Bhopal Disaster (VOA News)
China’s CCTV Cocumentary Channel announces its new slate of doc. series and partners

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