By Eugene Hernandez | Indiewire April 5, 2009 at 11:45AM
UPDATE: Fortissimo Films issued a statement from London early Monday morning. It is available here at indieWIRE.
Wouter Barendrecht, the co-chairman of leading international sales and production company Fortissimo Films has died, his passing coming as a tremendous shock today to many close friends and colleagues in the international film community.
indieWIRE's editors were stunned this afternoon by the word of Wouter's passing, confirming the news in conversations with some of his close friends today. As we put together this article, his colleagues at Fortissimo were understood to be putting together a statement announcing his passing. The cause of Wouter's sudden death was not immediately disclosed, but just last week he was active at the Hong Kong International Film and TV Market, Filmart, held in the city where he had lived since 1997. Wouter apparently died this weekend in Bangkok. [In a statement early on Monday, Fortissimo confirmed Wouter's passing and noted that he died suddenly of heart failure while in Thailand to screen a film.]
It's impossible to immediately assess and convey the significance of Wouter Barendrecht's numerous accomplishments in international film, but perhaps his greatest professional achievement is the invaluable role he played as a tireless champion of Asian cinema and as a stalwart supporter of independent, queer and international film. On a personal note, his friendships with so many members of the worldwide film community are also hard to overlook. Wouter was a fixture at every major film event throughout the year and, pondering his passing today at indieWIRE, we immediately discussed how difficult it is to imagine being at the Cannes Film Festival next month without Wouter on hand.
Born in The Netherlands in 1965, Wouter Barendrecht founded Fortissimo Films in 1991 and ran the company with Michael Werner. He was a programmer at the International Film Festival Rotterdam and was a press officer for the Berlin International Film Festival.
The Hampton's International Film Festival and indieWIRE honored Wouter with the annual Industry Toast at the festival back in October at a celebration that featured many of his closest friends and colleagues.
Lauded as a "playboy of the Pacific Rim" during the Hamptons tribute five months ago, Fortissimo's Wouter Barendrecht was praised at the event as a passionate advocate for international film who traveled the world to take his movies to festivals far and wide. He gained international acclaim and influence after launching Fortissimo 17 years ago. The company has a library of more than 250 films, its roster has included films by Wong Kar Wai, Todd Solondz, Killer Films, Jim Jarmusch, and many others. John Cameron Mitchell, director of "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" and "Shortbus," served as the M.C. for the Hamptons event, which included both hilarious and poignant moments.
Noah Cowan, head of the Toronto International Film Festival Group's Bell Lightbox, and a longtime friend of Barendrecht's, hailed Wouter back in October for what he did to "change the discourse, to change the way that films from Asia were talked about." While former Picturehouse head Bob Berney, also complimented Barendrecht and his work. Referring to the current "indie business in turmoil," Berney noted, "all this makes Wouter and Fortissimo so important for audiences and festivals around the world."
In a video tribute that night, Jim Jarmusch praised Wouter Barendrecht for his "exquisite taste in weird movies," while clips from Sony Picture Classics Tom Bernard & Michael Barker and filmmaker Wong Kar Wai also saluted the Fortissimo founder.
Modest and apparently a bit uncomfortable with all the attention at the Hamptons event in October, Wouter was quite moved by tribute. Thanking his colleagues and accepting their warm (and sometimes quite funny) wishes he noted that he ended up working in the film business because, "no one else in the world would accept me."
"He convinces us," noted good friend Claudia Landsberger from Holland Film, "that film is the most glamorous job that you could have your career in."
"Normally the Dutch people conquer the world with warships," quipped Berlinale festival director Dieter Kosslick in the final spoken salute of the evening back at the Hamptons, "but Wouter conquered the world with friendship."
indieWIRE's staff is still shocked, and deeply saddened, by the news of Wouter's passing today. We invite his friends and colleagues to post a comment to this story with a remembrance, comment or reflection. Our sincere condolences to the many people Wouter has touched in the business and, of course, to his close friends and colleagues at Fortissimo Films.