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by Eugene Hernandez
April 5, 2009 11:45 AM
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UPDATED | Wouter Barendrecht: 1965 - 2009

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.

31 Comments

  • bvoland@usa.net | April 7, 2009 11:47 AMReply

    You always think there will be more time, another moment, another opportunity to talk to those you care about. I never thought as we stood talking and laughing at the Grand last May that would be the last Cannes where Wouter would lift a glass and share his opinions in his inimitable way. I admired his taste, his humor, his sense of style, but above all of his wonderful gifts and attributes, it was his sense of humanity that shone through everything he did, to everyone who knew him. I was only an acquaintance, but with each festival we got to know each other a little more, and in those moments when one felt alone amidst the traveling circus that is our business, seeing Wouter walking your way, with that wonderful smile, could remind you that you weren’t alone, that what we do is a great way to spend a life, and make you feel optimistic once again. I somehow knew that despite the shroud of pessimism that the indie side of the film business has been cloaked in lately, Wouter would keep things going until they got better, would influence and inspire filmmakers, producers, exhibitors, programmers, and all of us who care about not only our world, but the wider world, to keep doing what we do, to try to make things better in our own way of contributing. He is irreplaceable and will be sorely missed. We will honor him by not giving up on his vision, by making the hard choices - which he made seem easy - to support those who the wider world overlooks or marginalizes, to love films and what we do to get them out to more and people, to share Wouter’s humanity as widely as we can. Au revoir, Wouter…

  • emfal | April 7, 2009 8:33 AMReply

    Wouter flew by. Never stayed long, but he's gone now, way too soon. Sandra and I hired him, a fast moving, funny and hyper intelligent young guy, just back from Berlin. He helped make our Cinemart the vital part of the Rotterdam Fest and an inspiration for scores of imitations- project markets that Rotterdam, but Sandra and Wouter in particular, encouraged all over the world.
    A year after joining us he started Fortissimo, penniless. We made a deal: Wouter could travel to the East at the Festival's expense to scout films for our Asian program, while acquiring films for his new company. We gambled that the Fest would benefit from Wouters drive and from the network that we were sure he would create. It worked brilliantly, for both. Thanks to Wouter Rotterdam stood out with a great Asian program. He took great risks to bring us the Sixth Generation from China, often smuggling footage. He organized the very first Takeshi Kitano retrospective, re-ignited Thai filmmaking, encouraged Chris Doyle to exhibit his photo's, flew in many stars. And all the time, we had a great time together, fooling around, drinking, sharing insights and gossip, all of that with passion. Lukewarm was not his middlename. Yesterday Sandra and I and other friends from Rotterdam and elsewhere joined Nelleke, Michael and the Fortissimo staff to raise a glass to Wouter. A couple of days from now, we'll be there, for the final farewell. He'll arrive by plane, as usual. His last flight from Bangkok. I still can't believe it.

  • filmlynx | April 7, 2009 2:38 AMReply

    Thanks for recalling those great Rotterdam days, Emile. As a journalist starting out, I thought all festivals were these magical candy stores where it was easy to discover exciting filmmakers like Wong Kar-wai and Zhang Yuan, even entire movements like the Sixth Generation. Of course Wouter had already done the discovering for us! As soon as I went to other festivals, I realized how special Rotterdam and its programming was.

    Later on, in 2001 I profiled Fortissimo for Screen International and by speaking to Wouter and the filmmakers whom he supported (f.e. Pen-ek) I was reminded again that he wasn't only a successful international industry figure, quite a feat in itself, but a real film visionary.

    Thessa Mooij

  • kvpi | April 6, 2009 12:40 PMReply

    I came to the Berlin Film Festival in 1991 with POISON-- Wouter bounded up to Todd Haynes and me and said "HI!! my name is WOUTER! It rhymes with SCOOTER!!" and that was that. We shared drinks, dinners, hotel rooms -- notably in Berlin a few years later when Wouter was launching Fortissimo and he filled our room (at the Arco!) with boxes and boxes of flyers for his first movies--there was no room for us to sleep!
    I went to HK 2 weeks ago with Marlene and Guthrie for 1 night and Wouter and Michael took us to a wonderful dinner. We talked about how long we'd known each other and how far we'd come.

  • paulyi | April 6, 2009 11:29 AMReply

    Wouter was a dear friend and a guiding light. The Pusan film fest would not be the success it was from the start without Wouter's constant guidance as I helped advise, and certainly without Wouter I could not have had the crazy courage to create the PPP. And arriving with a suitcase and no home after leaving Pusan and trying to start HAF, Wouter was the friend with waiting beer and pad to crash...

    Sharing countless bottles of wine and gorgeous food all over the world… so many fantastic stories... 4am after the first night of the first PPP and Dieter setting Dede N's shirt on fire… dancing in a HK disco with Chris D wooing the French Financier/Producer of IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE, which of course Wouter clinched the deal… devastating to think now that these memories will only be memories… 

    How to fill this huge void in professional and personal, all I can say is I/we must try and live up to Wouter's impossible standards of passion for cinema, a thirst for life with biting humour, but overall a deep love for friends… Wouter, a toast to you dear friend…

    - Paul Yi

  • gabriellefortissimo | April 6, 2009 11:24 AMReply

    On behalf of Fortissimo, friends and family, thank you for your condolences.
    A memorial website for Wouter will be up shortly where we will communicate further information.
    Our loving thoughts are with you.
    www.fortissimofilms.com

  • lahaaa | April 6, 2009 11:09 AMReply

    Thank you so much, Eugene, Noah, for helping to lead the way.

    Wouter. Still stunned, I write with heavy heart trying to absorb the unfathomable. He was singular, irreplaceable, a brilliant star in our universe. He rocked our worlds. His loss is immeasurable.

    This past October, who could have known that The Hamptons cool tribute to Wouter was to become a defining moment for so many of us?

    Shine on, Dear Wouter. With love and gratitude for 20 years of true friendship. Lynda

  • resch | April 6, 2009 9:20 AMReply

    It must be 20 years ago that I met Wouter in Berlin when he worked for the Forum and I was just starting in distribution.His energy, irreverent humour combined with warmth and generosity were immediately striking. It was a joy to see him build Fortissimo as a home for the films he loved and cared so passionately about, and to witness how much change one company can bring about.

    We shared the experience of leaving Europe (I remember his wicked "but why Toronto?!" at IFFON), and Fortissimo took on my first production. With Wouter, business was always personal. I can't believe he's gone, and we will never hear his laugh again. My condolences to his colleagues at Fortissimo and to his many friends.

  • londonindiprod | April 6, 2009 9:03 AMReply

    An excellent human.
    In an industry when many take and few give back, Wouter stood out as one of the 'good guys'. It's so so sad for everyone, especially his loving professional family, friends and family. My thoughts are very much with them today. I had the honour of working with Wouter on a film - his grace and constancy under the hideous pressures of a typical 'close' were testimony to his passion and love for our industry. Wouter, we are all a little worse off today and we shall miss you. Thank you so much for being such an excellent human. Fortissimo will continue to succeed and grow under Michael's protectorate, an ongoing legacy of your incredible work.

  • dwleitner | April 6, 2009 8:22 AMReply

    I was so taken with Berlin in 1989 that I remained behind after the Berlinale, palling around for weeks with my two new friends from The Forum, Ilona and Wouter. We were younger, thinner, alone and enthralled by the moment in that magical island city. Unsure of what could lay ahead. When I see Wouter's photo even today, I glimpse again that dashing, pert redhead. How proud we became of him.

    David Leitner

  • Syd | April 6, 2009 8:22 AMReply

    It makes me so very sad. In 1988 when I began FilmFinders, my first business dinner was with Ellis Driessen and just outside the Duomo Hotel in Milan where we were to meet, I tripped and dislocated my leg from my hip. I waited in pain for the ambulance and for Elliss to arrive and she brought Wouter with her. The two of them went with me in the ambulance to the Orthopedic Hospital where I was put in a body cast and where I stayed for two weeks. When I met Wouter after that excruciating "break a leg" introduction to the business, I was surprised to see his complexion was not green as it was during that horrible ambulance ride, and I always felt a sense of intimacy with him for our shared experience.

  • wdewitte | April 6, 2009 8:12 AMReply

    This is truly a great loss for independent cinema! We at the Ghent Film Festival have always collaborated with Wouter and his fantastic company in a terrific way. Our condolences go to his family, friends and close colleagues.

  • filmhawk | April 6, 2009 7:37 AMReply

    Before the term Queer Cinema was coined, before LGBT was a recognized acronym, before Fortissimo existed -- at a time when Mark Finch was still with BFI, Marcus Hu and Jon Gerrans were wet behind the ears and a whole gaggle of gay folks (of all sexes) were still finding themselves in a world that was commonly thought of as simply "gay films" -- one of the main giggles in that gaggle was a young, insouciant and deeply passionate redhead whose outrageously incisive observations were deliciously dishy. What made it all work was his innate sweetness and caring. What Paul Federbush referred to as his velvet voice was also lilting, like a caress -- and no matter how high and frequent the laughter was with Wouter (along with his devilish eye) you never forgot how much he cared about what he was doing and his profound love of film -- and new voices in film. The seeds of Fortissimo were always there, and because of Wouter's strong vision and leadership Fortissimo will continue to endure. As with the loss of Manfred Salzgeber, Mark Finch and Alf Boldt, Berlin will never be the same for me, with another hole that cannot be filled. Heartfelt condolences to all who knew and loved him.

    Bob Hawk

  • pfederbush | April 6, 2009 6:47 AMReply

    Nearly 10 years ago after I was fired from Fine Line, I realized how cold Hollywood could be. It was Wouter who threw me a life-line from overseas. He was organizing the first HK Filmmart and flew me in to Hong Kong to speak on a panel - all expenses paid. Not only was it a boost of desperately-needed confidence, it afforded me and Joe an amazing vacation in Vietnam that we never otherwise would have ever experienced. A few months later, back in LA and still without a job, Wouter hired me to consult for him until I found full-time employment. Ever since hearing the devastating news this morning, I so wish I could remind him of just how much that meant to me.

    Wouter's groundbreaking contribution to international cinema will survive and his legacy will continue to thrive with Michael, Winnie, Nelleke and the rest of his colleagues at Fortissimo. My condolences to all of you. What I remember today is his generous spirit - his laughter, his velvet voice and the wicked glint in his eye. I will always fight to keep those memories alive.

  • carlspence | April 6, 2009 6:43 AMReply

    Wouter was someone I counted on as a close friend in the film industry. He provided unconditional friendship and advice from the first time I met him. It is hard to accept that he has been taken from us so unexpectedly. The only solace I can find is to remember his great smile and infectious enthusiasm and humor no matter what city or occasion we might have had a chance to visit. Noah is spot on with his comments about the depth of his ties to the international film community and how many people he touched, influenced and learned from. He has left behind more than just a company - Fortissimo is more like an extended family and my condolences go out to everyone that knew him well. He will be sorely missed.

  • sophie5201314 | April 6, 2009 6:08 AMReply

    Wouter's death is very surprised to us .Wish his family will take care of themselves.

  • mrabehl | April 6, 2009 5:56 AMReply

    I have spent the last day trying to form some sort of thoughts on my reaction to this news, and I came to the conclusion that there really isn’t anything I can say that would truly convey the tragic loss of one of the industry’s most vital contributors. I remember meeting Wouter when I first started out in the business, and he was as genuine then as he was years later. He did not mind that I hadn’t a clue about the business when we met. He did not talk to me with a “what can you do for me?” attitude. We were just two people having a talk about our mutual love for cinema, because THAT is why he was in our world: to share his passion with all of us. That is how he was for as long as I knew him, and how he will always be remembered by all who knew him.

  • mrabehl | April 6, 2009 5:40 AMReply

    I have spent the last day trying to form some sort of thoughts on my reaction to this news, and I came to the conclusion that there really isn’t anything I can say that would truly convey the tragic loss of one of the industry’s most vital contributors. I remember meeting Wouter when I first started out in the business, and he was as genuine then as he was years later. He did not mind that I hadn’t a clue about the business when we met. He did not talk to me with a “what can you do for me?” attitude. We were just two people having a talk about our mutual love for cinema, because THAT is why he was in our world: to share his passion with all of us. That is how he was for as long as I knew him, and how he will always be remembered by all who knew him.

  • dchin | April 6, 2009 4:26 AMReply

    A great shock to hear of the passing of such a young, vital friend. There are many memories; one thing that must be said that he had prodigious energy, and was always involved in several projects at once. Two memories: one was attending Dutch Film Days in Utrecht, and spending the week at screenings and panels, discussing the coming "internationalization" of film financing, this might have been in 1987 or so, and Wouter was particularly keen on insisting that this would open up film from other countries; the other was after he had set up Fortissimo Films and he was in Toronto, trying to make sure films he was representing received attention (Norman Wang and Sophie Gluck were helping with press) and one afternoon, at one of the various receptions, we sat as he outlined his plans, which seemed (at the time) impossibly ambitious.

    He had a belief that film was an international language, and he was adamant in believing that worthwhile films would find audiences around the world. I haven't seen Wouter in a few years (haven't been to any festivals save local ones in about four years), and now i am saddened to know i won't be able to see him again.

  • JenniOlsonSF | April 6, 2009 4:23 AMReply

    Noah -- Thank you for your eloquent post. I've been trying to think of the words to express the sadness and shock. And feeling the desire to describe all the ways Wouter was such an amazing champion of cinema. And such a dear, wonderful man.

  • karikian | April 6, 2009 4:08 AMReply

    Wouter was a guy who loved life, and knew how to make all the people around him feel good. He was kind and considerate - a wonderful human being and a positive force in our business. He will be greatly missed...I send my condolences to his dear friends and colleagues at Fortissimo.

  • mabelrusso | April 6, 2009 3:28 AMReply

    We have known Wouter for so long, and his sudden death is such a shock, that it seems like there’s been a seismic shift in the film world today. I personally met Wouter at the Rotterdam Film Festival before we started Zeitgeist, and he looked like such a baby to me, but he was brilliant, charming, knowledgeable and ambitious--not childish qualities. He was going somewhere.

    When Emily and I started our own business he was a supportive friend, and we maintained a connection all these years as he became a force in the business; starting Fortissimo and bringing wonderful films and filmmakers to the attention of the world. It’s impossible to measure what Wouter was to people, as a friend, business associate, passionate film discoverer and advocate. But he will be terribly missed, that we know for sure.

  • reddiaper | April 6, 2009 3:25 AMReply

    What a shocking piece of news -- having known Wouter for so many years, it is hard to imagine a film world without him. One of my strongest recollections is at the Jerusalem festival many years ago sitting outside on the terrace with him in those lovely cool evenings -- talking & drinking wine and laughing with many friends. He will be sorely missed personally and professionally.

  • brrich | April 6, 2009 3:09 AMReply

    I am utterly shocked and devastated. I first met Wouter many years ago at the Amsterdam Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. We matched swords, then became fast friends. I always have had so much admiration for him and his work, his spirit and joie de vivre, his cosmopolitanism, and his behind-the-scenes ability to influence what films that the rest of us got to see, or make, or exhibit. He was the Pied Piper for so many of us. I last saw him at Marcus Hu's (and Ross N's) apartment, where he was collapsed with joy at being among friends and comrades -- not to mention Ross's exemplary mixmanship at the bar, drinking exotic cocktails while the lights of SF shimmered below. How will any of get through Toronto or Cannes without him?
    Ruby

  • dwnugent19 | April 6, 2009 1:58 AMReply

    It was such an honor to have been a part of organizing our tribute to Wouter this past fall in the Hamptons. The alternation between jocular remembrances and heartfelt testimonials that night was something not to be forgotten by those of us in attendance. As someone with so much left to learn about this world we all share, Wouter and his example was something always to look up to. His ability to inspire will be missed by so many of us, personally and professionally.

  • RRoy | April 6, 2009 1:30 AMReply

    At the moment I learned of Wouter's passing, a Fortissimo film was screening as part of New Directors New Films. I imagine that not a moment will go by in the future without on some screen in some far flung corner of the world a film that Wouter has touched will play. We all owe him a huge debt of gratitude.

  • Jberney | April 6, 2009 1:27 AMReply

    Bob and I are stunned by this news. Wouter was such a fixture on the festival circuit and a great supporter of so many filmmakers. We'll all miss him and it's a major loss for audiences around the world. It's hard to imagine who can fill this void. We all had such a beautiful evening at his tribute at the Hamptons, we'll all remember the jokes and fun we had that night; it's so hard to believe that will be the last time we saw him. He was a true original.

  • ncowan | April 6, 2009 1:27 AMReply

    Thank you, Eugene, for including my words in this article. But there are people who formed Wouter and were influenced by him, this amazing spirit and partisan for cinema, not included who must be named.

    I think of Ulrich and Erica Gregor, Hub Balls, Beki Probst, Carol Myer, Helen Loveridge, Shu Kei, Christa Saredi, Emile Fallaux, Sandra, Ido, Khun Om (how you are missed)...who made him what he will always be.

    And then I think of the people he inspired as colleagues everyday: Winnie, Nelleke, Marjann, Nicole, Chris and the consultants Michael, Ashley, Mary Jane, Ellis...but mostly I think of Michael Werner, a hero for me any many others.

    And the filmmakers...from every place on this planet, Deepa and John G here in Canada. Multiitudes elsewhere. Chris Doyle, you especially, made his world brighter.

    The HK gang who sustained him - fred, jonny, lorna...

    I would also like to single out - because this site originates in the US - Marcus Hu and Jon Gerrans - Strand Releasing - who may have bought Fortissimo's first film for the US and most certainly were the sort of partners Wouter cherished in keeping the spirit of international cinema alive in these difficult times.

    This can only be thought of as a tragic day but I think it's important that we recognize that Wouter was part of a family that cared deeply about our world, our culture and cinema that mattered.

    While we won't see another like him any time soon, I pray we might entice a few more souls into our particular world of magic by his shining example.

    - Noah Cowan, April 2009

  • janrofekamp | April 5, 2009 12:58 PMReply

    Having exchanged the fiction world for the documentary world many years ago, one of the few individuals from the fiction world I always enjoyed seeing at the festivals and markets for so many years was this extraordinary human being Wouter. I just cannot believe this. I am deeply, deeply shocked. There are truly no words.....deeply saddened we all are....

  • peterbelsito | April 5, 2009 12:30 PMReply

    Sydney Levine and I are deeply, personally devastated. Wouter has been a friend and colleague to us since the late '80's when, as Head of Cinemart, he first brought us to that event and to Rotterdam. We grew up in the business together. There are no words to express how you and we feel.

  • Eugene Hernandez | April 5, 2009 12:08 PMReply

    Already a number of Wouter's friends and colleagues have offered to share some words about him and his work. I invite people to post thoughts here as we all try to deal with the shock of this clearly emotional moment.

    On a personal note, Wouter's death is a terrible loss for his friends, co-workers and for international cinema. I'll try to write more about this soon. My personal condolences to all those who were close to him.