First rate sales

First rate sales

After the dust settled on IDFA 2019, Esther van Messel of First Hand Films outlined her market sales to Business Doc Europe.

Marie Skovgaard’s The Reformist – A Female Imam was picked up by ARTE (France), Swiss concern RSI and Against Gravity (Poland). Nothing is Forgiven (Vincent Coen & Guillaume Vandenberghe), about the Charlie Hebdo survivor Zineb El Rhazoui, was sold to LTV (Vilnius) and M6 in France while the Aung San Suu Kyi-themed On the Inside of a Military Dictatorship went to YLI (Finland) and NHK (Japan)


NHK also bought Sahra Mani’s A Thousand Girls Like Me and Kristen Vermilyea & Stéphane Correa’s Beyond Boobs, about TED-talker and artist Kristen’s decision to undertake a breast reduction.


SRF in Switzerland picked up Day Zero, VRT (Belgium) acquired Golden Age and Van Messel secured pre-sales of Freeports to NRK (Norway) and TVE (Spain). She also confirmed package sales to OVID and Syndicado (both US).


Van Messel further confirmed that she has been fielding a lot of interest in Dmitry Bogolyubov’s upcoming Russia/German production Town of Glory (52/80 min). The logline reads how ‘a heroic Soviet past and a destitute post-industrial present make the provincial town of Yelnya susceptible for the Kremlin’s aggressive anti-Western propaganda leading to the militarization of society from kindergarten to pension age.’


“There will be a fine cut available in the next few weeks,” commented Van Messel.


Van Messel also told BDE that here has been a lot of interest in the new fund her company is establishing, announced at IDFA. “I’ve secured the financing and I am in the process of setting up a fund that will be fully integrated in my company,” she explained during the festival. 


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.


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,” she 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.”