Monday, April 6, 2009

In memoriam: Wouter Barendrecht

As the co-founder of Fortissimo Films, Wouter Barendrecht helped put Thai cinema on the international map.

And seeing the Fortissimo Films logo flash up before a film, I've come to associate it with something momentous about to happen.

The Dutch producer was in Bangkok, working on his latest production, Pen-ek Ratanaruang's Nymph, when he died of heart failure. He was 43.

Fortissimo has issued a statement, which is found in full at IndieWire:

Fortissimo Films is deeply saddened to confirm that company founder and co-chairman Wouter Barendrecht died on Sunday, April 5, 2009 in Bangkok, Thailand where he had gone to screen a rough cut of Fortissimo’s upcoming Thai co-production Nymph.

Barendrecht was a passionate advocate of independent cinema for his entire career, the last 19 years of which were at Fortissimo Films and previously at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, where he helped create the Cinemart co-production forum. His sudden death, of heart failure, is an inestimable loss: to his beloved family and co-workers, his international circle of friends, and film-making itself, where his enthusiasm and drive helped create enduring testaments to his memory.

Although just 43 when he died, Barendrecht’s vision helped a generation of film-makers reach a global audience, particularly in Asia where he moved to Hong Kong in 1997 upon the advice of acclaimed director Wong Kar-wai to set up the Fortissimo office along with subsequent business partner and co-chairman Michael J Werner. His commitment to Thai cinema, for example, led to repeated collaborations with directors such as Pen-ek Ratanaruang and Apichatpong Weerasethakul and his decision to establish a second home in Bangkok, where he died on Sunday night.

Barendrecht’s passing has shocked and saddened all his colleagues, his family, and his friends around the globe. His death comes shortly after a busy Filmart in Hong Kong for the company, and preparing for Fortissimo’s upcoming Cannes slate.

Fortissimo’s Michael J Werner said, “We are all too shocked for words by Wouter’s untimely death. He was a force of nature, my business partner, and one of the closest friends anyone could ever have. We at Fortissimo are all devastated by this news and we intend to celebrate Wouter’s life and work by proudly carrying on his vision of the company and the business. Everything is too early but we are in the planning stages of one or more memorial services, the details of which will be forthcoming."

Nelleke Driessen, Fortissimo’s managing director, said, “Wouter’s artistic collaborations were as numerous and far-flung as his friendships. His enthusiasm for life and art was infectious; he was a loyal friend and colleague. He will be missed by all who knew him.”

IndieWire also has a more extensive tribute to the Dutch producer.

Barendrecht was a co-producer with Thailand's Five Star Production on Pen-ek's past three films: Last Life in the Universe, Invisible Waves and Ploy. His company was a distributor and producer of Syndromes and a Century, the much-acclaimed feature by Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Fortissimo also backed Pleasure Factory, the second film by Singapore-based Thai director Ekachai Uekrongtham. And Fortissimo was a sales agent for the Pang Bros. original Bangkok Dangerous and Tears of the Black Tiger, helping introduce Wisit Sasanatieng's debut feature to the world, as well as a dozen or so other Thai films.

Regretfully, I never met Barendrecht to tell him how much I appreciated his work. But I feel like I've lost a brother.

Update: Hollywood Reporter has an obituary.

Update 2: Screen Daily has a followup, with reaction from Asian film industry figures, and Five Star Production:

Thai filmmaker Pen-ek Ratanaruang, on whose film Barendrecht had been working at the time of his death, was too grief-stricken to comment on Monday. However, Five Star Production, the company that is co-producing Pen-ek's Nymph with Fortissimo, said: "We can't really think of words to describe our feelings right now. Wouter has been a pioneer in the success story of taking Thai cinema to the world. He believed in our directors and Thai cinema. He's a good friend and a very long-time partner."

And Kong Rithdee has a report in the Bangkok Post (cache):

Barendrecht, who has many friends in Bangkok, arrived in Thailand on Friday. He was scheduled to view the rough cut of the film Nang Mai (Nymph), which he co-produced with Thai studio Five Star Entertainment, on Monday morning. But on Sunday he could not be reached on the phone. He also did not show up at appointments. A friend finally found his body.

Barendrecht founded Fortissimo in 1991. He loved Asian films, and his taste for art house and independent movies meant he was instrumental in pushing small Thai films such as Fah Talai Jone (Tears of the Black Tiger), Satree Lek (Iron Ladies) and Khan Pipak Sa Khong Mahasamutr (Invisible Waves) into major film festivals and established Thai cinema as a player in the international art house scene.

In a Bangkok Post interview with Barendrecht in 2005, he said: "Only films that are honest to their local cultures will go far internationally. You can't make a film that has international fame by ignoring your own culture."

Update 3: Hollywood Reporter has more reaction.

Fortissimo has set up a condolences register and the Wouter Barendrecht Foundation "to discover and support new filmmaking talent around the globe".

(Via Screen Daily, Filmmaker Magazine)

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