Company has four pics in competition, sidebars

Hong Kong and Dutch-based sales, finance and production entity Fortissimo Films is back on the Lido in force with two films in competition and another two in fest sidebars. That is a marked contrast to last year’s event when the company bypassed Venice altogether.

Fortissimo’s return is bittersweet, however, as the company continues to get used to life without visionary founder Wouter Barendrecht, who passed away suddenly in April.

In a sign that the indie film biz may be witnessing its own shoots of recovery after a crippling few months, Fortissimo co-chairman Michael J. Werner, attending his first Venice in four years, has already held meetings with a number of distribs and is expecting to close at least two multi-pic deals before the fest’s close.

The double blow of Barendrecht’s sudden death as well as the troubled economic situation across the globe has seen Fortissimo execs re-evaluating their business model.

“We were hit by a double tsunami,” said Werner. “We were already dealing with the reality of the economy when Wouter passed away. Five months on his passing is still raw. I’m here in Venice, which was a festival that Wouter always used to come to. We are reminded of him every day.”

The company has expanded the scope of its operations in recent months by branching out for the first time into Indian cinema (Dev Benegal’s “Road, Movie”) and re-entering the genre film market with Japanese horror pic “The Shock Labyrinth 3-D” from helmer Takashi Shimizu — the first live-action 3-D pic to come out of Japan.

The company is also ramping up its English-language slate, with the likes of Todd Solondz’s Venice competition player “Life During Wartime” and Alex Gibney’s “Magic Bus.”

It’s also got Taiwanese helmer Yonfan’s “Prince of Tears” playing in competition while Tunisian helmer Raja Amari’s “Buried Secrets” unspools in Horizons and Dutch helmer Alex van Warmerdam’s “The Last Days of Emma Blank” plays Venice Days.

The company expects to make further announcements on new projects in the coming days.

While Fortissimo is extending its reach in terms of the nationalities of the filmmakers it works with, the company will also likely be involved in fewer films, albeit with higher budgets and profiles.

“We, like other companies, have had to diversify given the economic environment,” said Werner. “A film like ‘Shock Labyrinth 3-D’ is a tentpole film for us. It has broad potential. Every year from now on, we’ll be looking to secure two to three high-profile projects like that. We can’t merely focus on the traditional, pure arthouse films that we’ve been known for in the past.”

Fortissimo is pursuing a back-to-basics policy of exploiting coin from its sizeable back catalog as well as getting involved in fewer productions where it is taking all the risk.

As for the company’s return to Venice, Werner attributes efforts taken by fest organizers to reduce the cost of attending — a regular gripe from festgoers — as one motivator for attending.

“The festival’s made an effort to cut the costs for sales agents and distributors,” said Werner. “We never really went away. It’s just that sometimes it’s better to step back, re-energize, re-focus and then come back.”

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