Biz bids adieu to indie icon at Cannes

Memorial at fest for Fortissimo's Wouter Barendrecht

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CANNES -- The memorial Wednesday for Wouter Barendrecht is likely to be a tearful and triumphant farewell as executives from around the globe pay their respects to the indie film icon, who died suddenly last month at age 43.

Barendrecht's business partner Michael J. Werner is determined that one of the best tributes to the Dutch-born exec, who is credited with bringing to light so much of contemporary Asian cinema, will be to continue to build their Fortissimo Films sales company.

"On a personal and a business level it is a great tragedy that Wouter has left the scene," Werner said. "But not only is this the first market after his death, this is one of our strongest ever participations in Cannes." The company has four films in Official Selection, including Taiwanese director Tsai Ming-liang's Competition entry "Face" and another three movies screening in the market.

With additional pickups set to be announced in the coming days, Fortissimo also recently boarded "The Warrior and the Wolf," one of the highest-profile Asian films of the year. Based on a Japanese novel, the film is an epic journey of self discovery set in the Gobi Desert.

"There should be no doubt about Fortissimo's purpose, position or intent," Werner said. "This company numbers more than 20 people, all dedicated professionals. For the moment, we are quite stable and quite capable of managing the business."

Earlier this year, the company hired London-based former PR exec Chris Paton, to strengthen acquisitions, Werner has reinforced his business role and Winnie Lau, Nelleke Driesen and Nicole Mackey have taken on additional sales responsibilities.

"Looking forward, we have a slate that is already attracting the attention of several festivals later this year," Werner said. "We will be a consistent supplier of high-end, high-quality, high-profile films from international filmmakers, from Asia and from documentary makers."

Last week, Fortissimo announced that it had picked up "Dream Home," a slasher movie that Barendrecht had been particularly keen on as it returned the company to the upscale genre territory that it pioneered with "The Eye" series. Werner says that the company already has received multiple offers.

"Warrior and the Wolf" is directed by China's Tian Zhuangzhuang, produced by "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon's" Bill Kong and stars Joe Odagiri and Maggie Q. Fortissimo previously handled "Springtime in a Small Town," Tian's 2002 comeback after a prolonged directing ban. Fortissimo is representing rights outside Asia and North America.

"The challenges we are all facing in the marketplace are not made easier by Wouter's death, but we were already reshaping the company, re-evaluating the market and responding," Werner said.

Other developments this year are expected to include a co-production with Michelle Yeoh, a closer relationship with John Woo and Terence Chang's Lion Rock shingle and the acquisition of rights to another Indian movie -- following up on this week's market premiere of Fortissimo's first Indian documentary, "Children of the Pyre."

The memorial service for Barendrecht will be held at 3 p.m. Wednesday at the Plage des Palmes.
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