Art-house film agent Fortissimo, which brought quality Asian cinema to the world, closes after 25 years

Company had played a pivotal role in bringing work by Wong Kar-wai and Fruit Chan to a wider audience, but says it struggled to adapt to ‘the new realities and dynamics’ in the film business

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 August, 2016, 12:38pm
UPDATED : Friday, 19 August, 2016, 3:44pm

One of the world’s most esteemed sales agents of Asian and art-house films has filed for voluntary bankruptcy under the rules and laws of the Netherlands, marking the end of a 25-year run in the business. Fortissimo Films’ court filing on Tuesday was approved, and an administrator has been appointed by the court to take over and decide on the company’s next moves.

Founded in 1991 by programmers and producers Wouter Barendrecht and Helen Loveridge (who exited in 2000), and subsequently headed by the American Michael Werner after Barendrecht’s death in 2009, the company had been operating from offices in Hong Kong, Amsterdam and London.

Michael Werner’s 2014 interview with the Post

Fortissimo had long been revered for its cutting-edge taste for specialist titles. Over the years, it has marketed a variety of modern classics, from Wong Kar-wai’s 2046 (2004) to the 2014 Berlin Golden Bear winner Black Coal, Thin Ice.

Other notable titles in its impressive catalogue include Jim Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes (2003), John Cameron Mitchell’s Shortbus (2006), and documentaries such as Super Size Me (2004), Capturing the Friedmans (2003), and Martin Scorsese’s Shine a Light (2008).

A fixture at international film festivals, the company has marketed titles by many of the Asian auteurs active today, including Wong, Tsai Ming-liang, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Hirokazu Koreeda and Brillante Mendoza. The library of Wong’s Jet Tone, alongside catalogues of various other directors and producers, have also been managed by the company.

Apart from Wong, Hong Kong directors who have films in Fortissimo’s library include Clara Law, Christopher Doyle, Jacob Cheung, Yonfan, Ray Yeung, Lee Chi-ngai, Yim Ho, Pang Ho-cheung, Yau Nai-hoi, Peter Chan, Wong Ching-po, Lo Chi-leung, Fruit Chan, Oxide Pang, Juno Mak, Tsui Hark and Marco Mak.

Fortissimo had been in conversations with potential investors and buyers for years. While Hong Kong provides a seeming vantage point for sampling and acquiring Asian titles for international distribution, the niche for art-house films in the region remains limited – especially amid Chinese cinema’s recent transformation into a market for predominantly mainstream fare.

In an email sent to Fortissimo’s work partners and friends, Werner reflected that the company “was struggling to adjust and adapt to a multitude of changes, particularly in the core business of representing up-market, arthouse and award-winning films.

“This combined with changes in the structure and nature of a fee-based revenue model for funding the business made it especially tough as it strove to give the films the TLC [tender loving care] that they deserved.

“Without realising it, Fortissimo went from being an industry leader with an unrivalled love of quality cinema to one that was more of a legacy business with a library and a history. It did not adopt adequately to the new realities and dynamics that confronted the company.”

On Thursday morning, Fortissimo posted a note on its official Facebook page, reading, “With great sadness we are saying goodbye to a wonderful company with awesome colleagues and many memories.” The post comes with a link to a Variety report on the company’s demise. There has been no official statement on the matter published on the company’s website.

Responding to a Post request for comment, Werner declined “to give a statement on this matter as various filings are still in progress”, adding, “At an appropriate future time I will be able to speak about Fortissimo and the legacy and its contribution to world cinema and its unfortunate demise.”