Fortissimo Films confirmed yesterday that company co-founder and co-chairman Wouter Barendrecht died of heart failure on Sunday April 5 in Bangkok, Thailand , where he had gone to screen a rough cut of Fortissimo’s upcoming Thai co-productionNYMPH.

Barendrecht was a passionate advocate of independent cinema for the last 19 years at Fortissimo Films and previously at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, where he helped create the Cinemart co-production forum. His sudden death shocked the film world as word spread yesterday over different time zones.

In a statement, Barendrecht’s partner and co-chairman of Fortissimo 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, added: ‘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.’

The much-loved executive and producer was honoured with an industry toast at the Hamptons International Film Festival last year; the year before he and Werner won a special award of excellence at CineAsia in Macau.

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 in 1997 on the advice of acclaimed director Wong Kar-wai to set up offices in Hong Kong with partner 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.

Fortissimo has offices in Amsterdam, London and New York. The company has just completed a busy Filmart in Hong Kong and is in the process of gearing up for Cannes where it is thought several of its titles will be in official selection.

Screen will continue to report on Barendrecht’s sudden passing throughout the week.