Home Entertainment First Hand Films Sells ‘Our Land, Our Freedom’ to the BBC, Takes...

First Hand Films Sells ‘Our Land, Our Freedom’ to the BBC, Takes Female Empowering ‘Kalari’ to Visions du Réel (EXCLUSIVE)


On the heels of its successful world launch at IDFA, the critically-acclaimed anti-colonial pic “Our Land, Our Freedom,” sold by First Hand Films, has landed a deal with BBC Africa Eye.

Our Land, Our Freedom,” a Kenyan/U.S./Portuguese co-production, and the upcoming India-set “Kalari,” to be pitched in Visions du Réel docu festival’s Swiss Preview showcase, epitomize what First Hand Films stands for.

“What’s important for First Hand Films is defending diversity, minorities, female voices and new talent,” said Esther van Messel, CEO of the doc sales, production and Swiss distribution shingle, ahead of Visions du Réel in Nyon, Switzerland.

“We are so very pleased about this sale, our very first on the film,” said the seasoned doc specialist van Messel.

Co-directed by L.A.-based Meena Nanji and her Kenyan counterpart Zippy Kimundu, the feature tells of Kenyan woman Wanjugu Kimathi’s search for the remains of her father Dedan Kimathi, legendary leader of the Mau Mau Rebellion, who was executed by the British auhtorities in 1957. Her quest turns into an investigation into British colonial atrocities and a grassroots movement to reclaim ancestral land.

Courtesy of First Hand Films

“‘Our Land, Our Freedom’ is an important film that explores issues around legacy, colonialism and land rights that are of particular interest to our audiences across Africa,” said BBC Africa Eye editor Tom Watson. “We look forward to presenting this film on our platforms and bringing it to the attention of a wider audience.”

The film was produced by Eliane Ferreira for Muiraquitã Filmes, Meena Nanji for Twende Pictures and Zippy Kimundu for Afrofilms Int’l Ltd., in co-production with Autentika Films.

While “Our Land, Our Freedom” is already fuelling debate about British colonial past and land ownership in Kenya, First Hand Films’ upcoming pic “Kalari” turns to another pressing topic – violence against women in India, “which is both a historical and a daily reality,” according to the doc’s logline.

The film, co-directed by the Bedi Duo – the promising Maria Kaur Bedi and multiple award-winning Indian director Satindar Singh Bedi (“The Curse”) – is among six premium Swiss docs looking for co-financiers, to be pitched at the Swiss Preview of Visions du Réel’s Industry showcase (April 14-17).

In pure verité-style, the co-directors follow four young Indian women on their journey toward self-empowerment, as they are being taught self-defense with Kalari, the world’s oldest martial art. The first feature film ever about Kalari will follow 80-year-old martial arts legend Meenakshi Amma and her flamboyant students.

Van Messel is producing, with the Bedi Duo’s Spirited Heroine Productions, specialized in making films about feisty female protagonists. “We have a number of foundations on board, public funding from Zurich and Bern and will be actively looking for international partners at Visions du Réel,” van Messel told Variety. The film is scheduled for completion in 2025.

Talking market trends, van Messel feels the market is as tough as ever, with global streamers focusing on algorithm-feeding celebrity stories, shying away from socio-political fare, while traditional pubcasters are in a state of flux, she said.

“Broadcasters seem to have disappeared, especially in the Nordics; they aren’t engaged in non-fiction anymore,” she lamented.

Citing the festival hit “Life Is Beautiful” by Mohamed Jabali, about the Palestinian director’s experience of being stuck in limbo in Northern Norway when the borders to Gaza close, van Messel stresses that it was recently acquired by Al-Jazeera. “That deal is fantastic for the film, but again, it wasn’t sold to public broadcasters.”

To navigate the challenging market, the doc expert says diversification is her recipe- selling films internationally, doing theatrical distribution in Switzerland, producing and co-producing. “I love that. But to do all this is a privilege,” she acknowledged.

She also sees the potential for new revenue streams in AVOD, YouTube, and said: “We as doc creators, have to grab the audience where they are, including TikTok. This is where everything happens right now. It is our job as filmmakers to engage, and be part of the buzz, while staying true to ourselves.“

The Visions du Réel doc film festival runs April 12-21.