First Hand Fund

First Hand Fund

Swiss based sales and distribution outfit First Hand Films’ managing director Esther van Messel has given details of the new fund the company is establishing.

“I’ve secured the financing and I am in the process of setting up a fund that will be fully integrated in my company,” Van Messel explained at IDFA 2019. 

Through the fund, First Hand will look at investing in documentary projects internationally, and it will be used for theatrical acquisitions for Switzerland. The fund will also give First Hand extra opportunities to board bigger projects at an early stage as a co-producer, as well as subsequently sell them internationally and release them in Switzerland.

The initiative is likely to be welcomed by independent documentary producers at a time when they are struggling to secure backing from traditional supporters among the public broadcasters.

Van Messel has also revealed the release plans for its eagerly awaited pop doc A-ha The Movie, which looks a possible candidate for next year’s IDFA. The film, about the Norwegian pop idols whose song ‘Take On Me’ was one of the biggest hits of the 1980s, will be a “pop culture feast with a huge release on November 26th (2020) theatrically round the world.” 

A-ha -The Movie follows the band over a period of four years, explaining how its three members fulfilled their unlikely goal of becoming not just Norwegian but global pop stars.

Here at IDFA, First Hand has several titles in Docs for Sale. It is beginning sales on Czech euthanasia doc, The Good Death (pictured, by Tomas Krupa.  Meanwhile, the company is re-launching Hermann Pölking-Eiken’s epic documentary, The Hitler Chronicles – Blueprint For Dictators. “We now have a fully French version of the series,” van Messel said.

The company is also continuing sales on Karen Stokkendal Poulsen’s On The Inside Of A Military Dictatorship, about what really happened to Aung San Suu Kyi as she went from being a revered Nobel prize winner to a pariah accused of ethnic cleansing.

On a more general note, Van Messel pointed to the struggles indie docs currently face in finding audiences in cinemas.

“The theatrical market for documentaries and even strict arthouse fiction films as a rule does not exist anymore…it is really, really hard to make money from theatres with non fiction,” van Messel said. “The costs and the investments are so high that it is almost impossible to make the money back let alone earn anything on top of that.”

One problem is an over-saturated market. Approximately 700 films are released theatrically each year in Germany. In the UK, the figure is 900 or more. With so much competition, it is very hard for documentary to stand out.

“There is a very challenging wind blowing in documentary,” the First Hand boss said. “The question is how we can set the sails in a way to pick up speed for our vessels”.