Strong slate and heavy hearts for Barendrecht

While Fortissimo execs continue to mourn the April 5 death of visionary founder Wouter Barendrecht, the Hong Kong and Dutch-based sales, finance and production entity is moving ahead with plans to expand its global operations.

Fortissimo co-chairman Michael J. Werner announced that the company has boarded its first project with an Indian-based filmmaker, feature documentary “Children of the Pyre,” helmed by Rajesh S. Jala.

Pic follows the lives of seven young children who earn a meager living working at the world’s biggest crematorium on the banks of the Ganges. Fortissimo is handling international sales.

In addition to India, Fortissimo is looking to seal its first project with a Vietnamese helmer. That deal is expected to close imminently.

The company is also ramping up its English-language slate. In addition to Jonathan Demme’s previously announced Bob Marley doc and Todd Solondz’s “Life During Wartime,” Fortissimo is developing an English-language action project with Michelle Yeoh starring and co-producing. Christopher Doyle has boarded the project as D.P. while negotiations are ongoing to attach a director.

Fortissimo is also working closely with helmer John Woo and producer Terence Chang to develop a feature project. The three parties had been set to work together on “1949,” a romantic drama set during the first year of China’s communist revolution, but disagreements with Taiwanese co-producer ARTS saw the project shelved.

Details of their new project have yet to be announced.

The expansive moves had been in the works prior to Barendrecht’s death from a heart attack.

“We’d always been looking for an Indian film to be involved with,” said Werner. “It was a question of finding a film project which really moved us.”

The irony for Fortissimo is that it comes to Cannes with a particularly strong slate only weeks after the loss of Barendrecht. With four films in official selection — including Tsai Ming-Liang’s “Face” — the company is well-positioned to enjoy a solid market despite the challenging economic conditions facing the indie film sector.

“It’s the buyers who will determine how successful a slate we have but I’m cautiously optimistic,” said Werner. “It’s a strange Cannes for us with Wouter’s death and the fact that we’re all dealing with these emotions. We’re very sad but also determined that we know how to keep the company viable and (continue to) occupy a place of prominence.”

Fortissimo also announced its return to genre fare on the eve of Cannes by boarding Hong Kong helmer Pang Ho-Cheung’s slasher pic “Dream Home.”

In a positive sign that the green shoots of recovery may be touching the film biz, Fortissimo sold helmer Kore-eda Hirokazu’s “Air Doll” to Ocean Films in France.

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