Switching lingo

Fortissimo builds a slate in English

Fortissimo Films is continuing its push into English-language movies with three new Australian projects to go with an expanding slate of American, British and South African pics.

The sales company, based in Hong Kong and Amsterdam, is best known as a specialist in Asian fare, such as the Cannes competition entry “Shanghai Dreams.”

But over the past couple of years Fortissimo has made a concerted effort to diversify into English-speaking pics. Its Cannes slate includes the Robin Williams-starrer “The Night Listener” from Hart Shap, the Anglo-Canadian romance “Snow Cake” starring Alan Rickman and Sigourney Weaver, the Australian Un Certain Regard entry “Jewboy,” and the Sundance docu “Mad Hot Ballroom.”

In Australia, where the company is repped by development and acquisitions VP Ashley Luke, Fortissimo is developing the Tony Ayres pic “Home Song Stories” starring Joan Chen; Paul Goldman’s black comedy “Suburban Mayhem”; and Khoa Do’s “Footy Legends.”

Fortissimo recently opened a London office headed by sales vet Nicole Mackey, and uses New York-based producer Mary Jane Skalski as its U.S. consultant.

“When we started the company, the Asian stuff just happened to be there and the English-language films weren’t available,” said co-topper Wouter Barendrecht. “It’s not that we weren’t interested.”

With most of its films, Fortissimo now takes a role in financing, but in the case of “Mad Hot Ballroom” it’s simply handling sales on behalf of Paramount, which acquired worldwide rights. Fortissimo played the same role for Warners with the Spanish pic “Queens.”

“We’re in discussions with studios about handling or investing in various productions,” said co-topper Michael J. Werner. “It’s a smart move by the studios to think about how to position and market certain kinds of films around the world.”

Werner has also spent time in South Africa over the past year, cultivating contacts in the production community. The company picked up the Berlin fest prize-winner “U-Carmen,” a Xhosa version of Bizet’s opera, but Werner said he’s also working on a number of English-speaking projects there.

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