Screen International’s US editor Mike Goodridge pays tribute to the unique talent of Wouter Barendrecht.
The death of Wouter Barendrecht has dealt the film business a severe blow. The co-chairman of Fortissimo Films was that rare, perhaps unique, individual who combined a zealous passion for cinema with a head for business. Put another way, he built a business by finding and promoting the work of outstanding film-makers.
It might sound like a commonplace achievement, certainly in the film world, but in reality it is extremely uncommon. It takes a portfolio of qualities and skills which rarely unite in one shining personality - a buff’s knowledge of film, an assured eye for talent, heightened marketing intuition, a detailed knowledge of how the business works on a financing, production and distribution level in every budget range, in every territory and, most memorably in Wouter’s case, a voracious love of people.
From an early age he displayed a keen cinephilia combined with a sixth sense for how to promote the films he shepherded through Berlinale’s Forum, where he worked as a press officer. Or when he was at Rotterdam, lapping up countless film-making cultures and directors, while helping to found Cinemart, the still vital co-production forum which matches film-makers with potential finance.
Although he started Fortissimo with Helen Loveridge in 1991, he carried on running Cinemart for some years. It was a concept which spawned countless imitators, including HAF which he helped to start in Hong Kong in 2000.
Move to Hong Kong
But it was at Fortissimo that Wouter created the perfect vehicle for his particular skills, and with Loveridge (who left in 2000) and then business partner Michael J Werner he shone a spotlight on bold auteur cinema like never before.
Moving to Hong Kong in 1997 to further develop his fascination with new Asian cinema, Barendrecht tirelessly worked to export film-makers, new and established, from all over the world. He started producing in recent years, with credits including Invisible Waves, Tokyo Sonata, Getting Home and Nymph, Pen-ek Ratanaruang’s latest film, a rough cut of which he had travelled to Bangkok to see when he died.
Never shying away from daring material, Wouter fought for his film-makers, working the festival circuit with aplomb. ‘You had to sit through all his movies,’ one festival director said this week, ‘even if you didn’t want to because he was so passionate about them and you couldn’t resist his passion.’
Joie de vivre
Indeed few knew how to make Berlin, Cannes, Venice and Toronto work to their benefit as well as Wouter, and in recent years it was a rare A-list festival in which Fortissimo did not have a handful of films. One refrain which I have heard all week is a sad one in the run-up to the film calendar’s biggest annual gathering: ‘Cannes won’t be the same without him.’
He was always on a plane, working across the world in multiple languages and knowledgeable of myriad cultures. He was the real International Man.
Michael, Nelleke, Winnie, Nicole, Chris and all the talented staff at Fortissimo will carry on the business and continue to prosper. Fortissimo is a vitally strong brand but they and the business at large will always miss Wouter.
His joie de vivre was infectious, his sense of humour, well, unique, his personality irreplaceable. He preferred to do business with people he liked and his social interactions gave him as much pleasure as clinching deals or sales.
In many ways, for that reason, he had a charmed life, working at the highest level of cinema with the people he wanted to. It doesn’t get much better than that.
‘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.’
Michael J Werner, co-chairman, Fortissimo Films
‘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.’
Nelleke Driessen, managing director, Fortissimo Films
‘Of course we know the sun will rise tomorrow, but this world will never be the same again. The inimitable Wouter, his passion for films, his friends and life itself, has touched and changed the lives of each person who has come into contact with him.’
Nansun Shi, producer
‘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 film-makers everywhere.’
Wong Kar Wai, director
‘Mentor, big brother, passion, wisdom, generosity, sense of humour, kindness, acceptance and good taste. The love for cinema, devoting your heart and soul, keep fighting and keep going, no regrets, never look back. This is Wouter in my heart.’
Ivy Ho, director of co-production market HAF
‘I don’t know how to express my grief about his death. He was a great leader of the film industry in the world and my true friend.’
Kim Dong-ho, director, Pusan International Film Festival
‘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 film-makers and the art of making movies. A real Mensch is gone, it’s so sad.’
Dieter Kosslick, director, Berlinale
‘It’s simply incredible that world cinema has lost Wouter at so young an age. I remember first meeting Wouter at Rotterdam, 20 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 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.’
James Schamus, CEO, Focus Features