Wouter Barendrecht’s passion for life, loyal friendship, and championing of international cinema are being celebrated this week in the wake of his sudden, shocking death this weekend in Bangkok, Thailand. Online, via email and over IM the past day, Wouter’s friends and colleagues have been congregating virtually from cities around the world to talk about his life and work. The outpouring has been significant and has dominated numerous conversations among industry insiders since late Sunday.
One of Wouter’s close friend spoke of spending hours reading old email correspondence, some dating back more than 6 years, laughing and crying the whole time. Another couldn’t muster the energy to work yesterday, needing to meet looming deadlines, but only wanting to cry. It’s been a similar story with so many people I’ve spoken with since Sunday.
Personally speaking, Wouter will always mean a lot to me for many reasons, but I will especially remember how he took me under his wing at a few early fests and made sure I met the right people and had a good time. He always opened up his circle and was very supportive of our work at indieWIRE. But also, as a disciple of Wong Kar Wai, I always relished the chance to hear about the status of his latest work. And I’ve been a fan of so many of the films shepherded by Wouter and his colleagues. We clearly share a passion for so many similar films and filmmakers.
It is, of course, impossible to talk about Wong Kar Wai and his work without also acknowledging the contributions of Wouter, Michael Werner and their esteemed colleagues at Fortissimo. “I am deeply saddened by the sudden passing of Wouter,” Wong Kar Wai said yesterday, in a statement. “His life was filled with passion for cinema. He was my comrade-in-arms for many years, a friend to Asian cinema, and a great champion for independent filmmakers everywhere. His laughter and his achievements will be cherished forever.”
A video tribute to Wouter Barendrecht by Wong Kar Wai, presented to him at the Hamptons/indieWIRE Industry Toast at the Hamptons International Film Festival in October:
The company also maintains a library of work by iconic American director Jim Jarmusch. “We are stunned and deeply saddened by the loss of Wouter. He was a shining light of inspiration in the world of filmmaking, and a remarkable and wonderful man in every way,” Jarmusch, Sara Driver, Stacey Smith and Carter Logan said, in one of the hundreds of condolences posted on the Fortissimo Films website this week. “It is difficult to imagine continuing without his guidance, his enthusiasm and his vast knowledge. We will carry Wouter in our hearts, and we send our thoughts and sympathy to all who loved him as we do.”
So many other filmakers have offered their thoughts on Wouter, as well. “It is almost beyond my comprehension that Wouter is no longer going to be making me laugh and brightening my nights with his smile, quick wit and unstoppable personality,” noted Gregg Araki, “Wherever in the blurry festival world I may have been found myself – Sundance, Cannes, Berlin, AFM, Toronto, Venice – he was always there, a light in the room, an oasis of fun, energy and joie de vivre (and often juicy gossip). Beyond his incredible contributions to the art and culture of international cinema and his support of indie filmmakers like myself (‘Mysterious Skin’ would likely never have made it to the screen without him), he was a genuinely wonderful human being and true friend. I miss him already.”
“Wouter… one light is gone, but not missing,” summmed up Apichatpong Weerasethakul, who worked with Fortissimo on “Sydromes and a Century.” “It is traveling somewhere beautiful. You have created and inspired so many lights in cinema. These magic lanterns will accompany you across borders. So I know you will not be lonely. I hope to see you in the future. Don’t forget to say hi.”
Numerous filmmakers and industry alike have reiterated Wouter’s committment to Asian cinema. “I really appreciate what Wouter has done for Chinese movies in the international market and know that he would have continued to do even more,” said filmmaker Stanley Kwan, “On a personal level, I’m just very sad to have lost a good friend.”
“Of course we know the sun will rise tomorrow, but this world will never be the same again,” wrote produced Nansun Shi, “The inimitable Wouter, whose passion for films, his friends and life itself, has touched and changed the lives of each person who has come into contact with him. We will no longer see his cheerful self at every film-related event in the many corners of the world. But we must carry on his wishes and his work by making each film a good film. That is how he will be remembered, as though he has not left us.”
“Maybe the film industry is too tiring and its time to rest in a peaceful world and in this world maybe you will discover the perfect film,” offered Tian Zhuangzhuang, in a statement. “Establishing Fortissimo Films, you have brought a great number of excellent films to all corners of the world to cinephiles from every nation. But, you are no longer here to share in the joy and happiness you have brought to so many.” Continuing, he added, “I had been looking forward to showing you my new film. In fact, I will have it finished in less than two weeks and now that you have gone I cannot share it with you. But it no longer matters. Please rest in peace! Thankfully film lasts forever. Through film, your love will stay with us forever. Take Care!”
So many comments have poured in at indieWIRE, on his Fortissimo condolence page and on his personal Facebook since late Sunday. “I have known Wouter since 1988 as a friend and business partner. He was one of the human beings you always had fun with, a clever agent and a person truly committed to his filmmakers and the art of making movies,” said Berlin Film Festival director Dieter Kosslick, who joined a gathering of international industry and filmmakers to salute Wouter at the Hamptons/indieWIRE Industry Toast last fall in New York. “It was always a pleasure to work with him and one of the most memorable collaborations was definitely the opening of the Berlinale in 2007 with Martin Scorsese’s Shine A Light with the Rolling Stones. I am grateful that I had the chance to pay tribute to his great work during the Hamptons Film Festival last summer. A real Mensch is gone, it’s so sad.”
A video tribute to Wouter Barendrecht by Christopher Doyle and Jim Jarmusch, presented to him at the Hamptons/indieWIRE Industry Toast at the Hamptons International Film Festival in October:
“Wouter was a guy who loved life, and knew how to make all the people around him feel good,” wrote Karen Arikian, the former co-director at the European Film Market in Berlin, who now runs the Hamptons International Film Festivall and lead last year’s salute to Wouter. “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.”
“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,” wrote Carl Spence from the West Coast, where he runs the Seattle International Film Festival. “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…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.”
Leading independent film producers and executives also weighed in, underscoring Wouter’s important role in sheperding American indie film internationally. “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.” And commenting on a recent trip with her partner and their daughter, she added, “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.”
“Wouter’s enthusiasm, passion, and joy — of film and people, of the world around us — always came through so clearly and largely — making him a delight to be around,” wrote Ted Hope. “We will miss him, but hopefully the memory of him will instill more of those qualities in all of us.”
“It’s simply incredible that world cinema has lost Wouter at so young an age,” wrote Hope’s former Good Machine colleague James Schamus, now head of Focus Features. “I remember first meeting Wouter at Rotterdam, twenty years ago. He spoke every language; saw every film; knew everyone at every party. Anyone who came of age in those heady days of independent cinema — and anyone who has since felt the force of his energy and optimism since, especially, but not exclusively, in Asia — will see in each others’ faces, the next time we meet, the sadness, and gratitude, his passing engenders.”
“Wouter’s taste, intelligence, warmth, style, and just the way he dynamically bounded into a room — to me he was the model of just what someone in his position should be,” wrote producer Scott Macaulay, editor of Filmmaker Magazine. “I first met him in the mid-’90s at the Rotterdam CineMart and never fully understood how he always knew so much about what was happening at just that moment in film and also how he could make his work so wonderfully personal. RIP, Wouter.”
Earlier today we reached out to Geoff Gilmore, the former longtime head of the Sundance Film Festival who is now in New York at Tribeca. “It’s difficult. It’s difficult to speak of someone so full of life, so rapturously real and potent and affecting. And now he’s gone,” Geoff Gilmore wrote to us today. “The obit says the Asian film biz is reeling…but we all are — in different ways — no matter where we are, for Wouter Barendrecht was part of all our lives…He was a citizen of the international world of film festivals and filmmakers …and he was always there or seemed to be, so extensive and wide-ranging were his travels, you just expected to run into him wherever you yourself went…and now we won’t see him anymore … .He was one those who impacted a room when he walked in the door, indeed he often lit it up, but even when he didn’t you always wanted to go over and exchange a hug or a hello and maybe a few words or so about some aspect about film or the biz or maybe hear something funny or make a crack to him about last night….And now he’s gone.”
“He was important… not just personally (although that’s how so many of us will remember him), and not just because of the filmmakers he worked with and the new directors he introduced you to but because he was instrumental in opening up Asian cinema to the world,” Gilmore wrote, “In fact in the course of his life he introduced and connected us with all that his travels brought him into contact with …and his taste and the force of his passion made it very worthwhile….And now he’s not there anymore. And I’m really going to miss him.”
A video tribute to Wouter Barendrecht and Fortissimo Films, presented to him at the Hamptons/indieWIRE Industry Toast at the Hamptons International Film Festival in October:
So many other comments to read and relish on the Fortissimo condolence page and on indieWIRE, but I’ll wrap up with a final one, from Raj Roy, the chief curator at MoMA. “At the moment I learned of Wouter’s passing, a Fortissimo film was screening as part of New Directors New Films,” he wrote, “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.”