Fortissimo chairman was indie advocate

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Fortissimo Films co-founder and chairman Wouter Barendrecht, a revered figure in the indie film world and a champion of gay cinema, died Sunday of heart failure in his Bangkok apartment. He was 43.

The longtime producer and sales agent was in Thailand to screen a rough cut of Fortissimo's upcoming Thai co-production "Nymph," the company said.

Barendrecht's vision helped a generation of filmmakers reach a global audience, particularly in Asia. He moved to Hong Kong in 1997 at the urging of director Wong Kar Wai to set up the Fortissimo office with subsequent business partner and co-chairman Michael Werner.

"We are all too shocked for words," Werner said Monday. "He was a force of nature, my business partner and one of the closest friends anyone could ever have."

Barendrecht died after a busy Filmart in Hong Kong and just as Fortissimo is preparing for the Festival de Cannes. "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," Werner said.

Barendrecht spent 19 years with Fortissimo, where he guided such Asian films as Wong's "Chungking Express" and "In the Mood for Love."

"His life was filled with passion for cinema," Hong Kong director Wong said. "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."

Before Fortissimo, Barendrecht helped create the Cinemart at the International Film Festival Rotterdam and worked as a press officer for the Berlin International Film Festival.

Barendrecht's commitment to Thai cinema led him to repeated collaborations with such directors as Pen-ek Ratanaruang ("Ploy") and Apichatpong Weerasethakul ("Syndromes and a Century") and to establish a second home in Bangkok.

In October, Barendrecht was honored by the "Toast" at the Hamptons International Film Festival in New York; the nod celebrates the person who best exemplifies the spirit of the indie film world.

"I'm still in a state of complete shock. We were on stage together at the Asian Film Awards a few weeks ago," said Yukie Kito of Japan's Entertainment Farm, who co-produced "Tokyo Sonata" with Barendrecht. "We worked very closely on 'Tokyo Sonata' and chose director Kiyoshi Kurosawa together. I don't think Kurosawa-san would have said yes if it wasn't the both of us."

Born Nov. 5, 1965, in the Netherlands, Barendrecht was a member of the European Film Academy and frequently served on the juries of international film festivals.

Gavin J. Blair in Tokyo contributed to this report.
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