Art-House Pioneer Fortissimo Films Files for Voluntary Bankruptcy

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Fortissimo scored a global art house hit with Wong Kar Wai's 'In the Mood for Love.'

The European-Asian sales agent worked with U.S. auteurs such as Jim Jarmusch, John Cameron Mitchell and Hal Hartley and brought talents such as Wong Kar Wai and Tsui Hark to global audiences.

Fortissimo Films, the Hong Kong- and Amsterdam-based international sales agent, has filed for voluntary bankruptcy in the Netherlands. The move ends what was a pioneering quarter century for the company, which helped bring Asian art house films to the rest of the world and championed indie auteurs around the globe.

The Dutch authorities have appointed an administrator to manage the bankruptcy and further filings will follow for subsidiaries of the group's Amsterdam-based parent company, Fortissimo Holdings.

Fortissimo was hit hard by a shift in the market for classic art house cinema, with fewer buyers and lower prices for all but the biggest indie names. Many of Fortissimo's competitors have shifted to more mainstream fare to stay competitive, but the Dutch company, founded by Wouter Barendrecht and Helen Loveridge in 1991, stayed true to its cutting-edge roots.

Michael Werner, who first joined Fortissimo in 1995, took over as sole chairman when Barendrecht died suddenly in 2009.

Recent successes included Chinese crime drama Black Coal, Thin Ice, winner of the Berlin Film Festival in 2014, and Ira Sachs' Love Is Strange starring John Lithgow and Alfred Molina as a recently married gay couple. The latter was a sleeper hit in the U.S., earning $2.26 million for Sony Pictures Classics.

In the end, those modest hits weren't enough to cover Fortissimo's expenses, which included operating costs for its huge library of titles. In addition to its own films, Fortissimo also manages existing libraries on behalf of independent producers and directors, including Wong Kar Wai’s Jet Tone, Killer Films, Hart Sharp Entertainment and helmers Jim Jarmusch, Hal Hartley and Alex van Warmerdam.

Fortissimo's library will be the company's most prized asset as the administrator looks to sell off the company, or parts of it, to new buyers. The group has a strong brand in the indie sphere and its library could draw bidders, though Fortissimo itself has been trying for years to attract an outside investor or buyer for the business.

Over its 25-year run, Fortissimo worked with such indie darlings as Jim Jarmusch (Coffee and Cigarettes), Hal Hartley (Trust), Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me) and John Cameron Mitchell (Shortbus) and was instrumental in bringing Asian auteurs including Wong (In the Mood for Love), Pen-ek Ratanaruang (Nymph) and Tsui Hark (Seven Swords) to a wider, and more Western, audience. In part, it became a victim of its own success, as Asian studios set up in-house sales teams to handle international sales of their own films.