Obituary: Wouter Barendrecht

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 April, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 09 April, 2009, 12:00am

It's no coincidence that one of Wouter Barendrecht's last activities, before he died of heart failure on Sunday in Bangkok, was to watch a rough cut of Pen-Ek Ratanaruang's Nymph, which he co-produced. The Dutch-born and Hong Kong-based producer was well known for his lifelong dedication to developing Asian independent cinema.

As the founder and co-chairman of Fortissimo Films, the 43-year-old was instrumental in nurturing the careers of a generation of Thai filmmakers, including Pen-Ek, Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Wisit Sasanatieng, and establishing an international platform for auteurs such as Wong Kar-wai and Kiyoshi Kurosawa.

Barendrecht's links with Asian cinema can be traced back to the late 1980s, when he was assigned to work for the Forum competition at the Berlin Film Festival, a side-event showcase well known for its Asian content. His passion for Asian filmmaking continued when he switched to the Rotterdam International Film Festival, where he served as a programmer and also helped institutionalise the Cinemart co-production forum. He established Fortissimo in 1991 - he was later joined by Michael Werner, who co-chairs the company - and moved to Hong Kong to set up the firm's Asian office in 1997 on Wong's advice.

He remained in Hong Kong and fast became one of the film industry's most recognisable figures here. One of his most important contributions was the establishment of the Hong Kong Asia Film Financing Forum (HAF), an annual event that helps Asian filmmakers secure financial backing for their projects. He served as a member of the forum's reading committee, and remained an honorary adviser until his death. He also took an active role in Filmart, the Trade Development Council's annual event. Prior to his death, he had just finished a hectic week of activities for Fortissimo at Filmart, and was busy preparing his company's slate for Cannes in May.

Barendrecht was also a driving force behind the rebirth of the Hong Kong Lesbian and Gay Film and Video Festival, which he resurrected in 2000 with filmmaker Raymond Yeung Chi-wai.

In a press statement, Werner said he and his colleagues were 'too shocked for words' by news of Barendrecht's death. 'We intend to celebrate Wouter's life and work by proudly carrying on his vision of the company and the business,' Werner said. In the same press release, Wong Kar-wai described Barendrecht - who helped Chungking Express and In the Mood for Love gain a foothold on the international arthouse circuit - as 'a comrade for Asian filmmakers, the biggest supporter of all independent filmmakers'.

Edko Films chief executive officer Bill Kong Chi-keung, who had known Barendrecht since they promoted Tian Zhuangzhuang's The Blue Kite on the film festival circuit in 1990, praised the producer for his dedication to promote Chinese and Asian films globally. 'His contributions were unprecedented,' he said. 'It was sad for me to hear about the departure of such a dear friend - and his passing was a sad loss to Asian cinema as well.'

Jacob Wong Hing-cheung, the HAF's current director, said Barendrecht was 'a true visionary' in developing a modern film festival comprising screenings with business platforms such as a film market and a co-production initiative. 'And he saw most clearly that the energies of young filmmakers are best served with the guidance of a creative producer, a role that he had both the passion, talent and experience for, but that sadly we shall not come to see blossom.'