This past Sunday, we lost a dear member of our family. As word quickly spread around the globe, I realized the deep impact Wouter’s departure from this world would mean to all of us. As Noah Cowan said on the phone, “I thought we’d grow old together.”
More tributes to Wouter Barendrecht.
Wouter cared deeply for his friends and cherished them. His wonderful group dinners were his expression of embracing us, not as work colleagues, but as family. The Fortissimo family he designed with his partner Michael Werner was a loyal troupe dedicated to bringing the art of film to the masses. Fortissimo brought some of the greatest films and filmmakers to screens around the world.
On the surface, many probably perceived Wouter as a raconteur, playboy and a man of adventure, but friends knew him as the caring co-partner at Fortissimo who thought of his co-workers as family who he would travel and vacation with. He adored his best friend and companion Michael Leow, you could see the lights in his eyes whenever they were together.
Whether he was doing the hands down, best impersonation of his beloved Dieter Kosslick or rallying the troops at one of his parties, his wink, his gravelly voice, and the occasional shocking joke, he was one of the most endearing faces on the festival circuit. For as long as I’ve known Wouter, the first insult that would drop out of his mouth was designed to make me laugh and he knew all my weak spots. “Hey Homo, where are you” would be the first text message I’d see as I’d land in a foreign country, usually followed by, “Where are we going to eat?”
At last year’s Fortissimo Party at the Toronto Film Festival, Kim Yutani and Vicci Ho came up to Wouter and I and declared, “You’re the Asian Wouter,” to me, and “You’re the Dutch Marcus” to Wouter and we looked at each other and said, “Ewwwwwwwwwwwwww.”
On the eve of 9/11, Fortissimo held a quiet gathering of friends and family at the Toronto Film Festival. That was a defining moment for many of us. It crystalized one fact; we all knew we had our travelling family. We knew it every time Wouter organized a party or gathering to see us, he’d take the moment to greet each and everyone of us as importantly as the next.
Just last week, Wouter and I were making arrangements for my mother’s annual Cannes dinner. When my mother had her stroke several years ago, Wouter was on the phone that night at the hospital to check on her. He flew twice to San Francisco to visit her and would call her from around the globe to let her know of his adventures and to make her laugh. He always spoke of his mother and how much fun he would have with her.
I’ve gone through hundreds of photos of Wouter from the late 80’s when he worked at the Forum office at the Berlin Film Festival and the Rotterdam Film Festival to just a few months ago in Berlin. I watched as Michael and Wouter built their company up just as my business partner Jon Gerrans and I were building ours. I laughed as he had to share rooms with Christine Vachon and myself at the Arco Hotel in at the Berlin Film Festival which ultimately resembled the craziest frat house days of the film festival circuit. I remember crying with him in San Francisco when our dear friend Mark Finch had left this world in the mid 90’s. I remember when Wouter took my boyfriend and I to try lobster sashimi at a restaturant in Hong Kong that made us blanche as we picked up undulating pieces of meat and put them in our mouths.
The first time I met Wouter in 1988 I knew he was going to be a part of my life forever. I don’t think there’s a day since then he hasn’t popped into my head, usually with a laugh or a smile. I’ve travelled the globe with Wouter from Asia to Europe to Dubai and I know he’s going to be with me forever.
Wouter’s mischievousness will live inside of me, our grade school running jokes that would leave our dinner table mates either disgusted or rolling their eyes with disdain. Many know of the running gag (that could last the duration of a meal) that would often start with something like, “George Clooney or Tony Leung?” and would eventually evolve to “Noah Cowan or John Vanco?” Wouter would respond, “Vanco, he’s more virgin!”