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Sales Agent Fortissimo Films to Close on Quiet Note

Hong Kong- and Amsterdam-based sales agent Fortissimo Films is to close its doors after more than 20 years as a pioneer of Asian and art-house cinema.

The company filed for voluntary bankruptcy Tuesday in The Netherlands. The filing was accepted by the court and notification posted. Separate filings need to be made for individual subsidiaries.

The court has appointed an administrator, known as a ‘curator’ according to the Dutch system. The curator will decide the next moves. These could range from a refinancing, to the sale of the company to a third party, or its breakup.

Staff have been informed of the situation by the existing management. The curator is expected to meet with the Amsterdam-based employees this week.

Fortissimo has represented titles by auteurs including Wong Kar-wai, Jim Jarmusch, Peter Greenaway, Tsai Ming-liang, Hal Hartley, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Brillante Mendoza, Tsui Hark and Pen-ek Ratanaruang. Its catalog spans some 300 titles.

With award winners including  Berlin Golden Bear recipients “Black Coal, Thin Ice” (2014) and “U-Carmen eKhaylitsha” (2005,) “In The Mood for Love” (Cannes 2000,) “Theeb” (Venice 2014) and the Jennifer Lawrence breakout “Winter’s Bone” (Sundance 2010,) the company has been a regular fixture at festivals and markets for more than two decades.

Its current slate includes: “The Time of Their Lives,” starring Joan Collins and Pauline Collins; fantasy “Valley of the Gods,” with Josh Hartnett and Charlotte Rampling expected to star; drama “The White King” with Jonathan Pryce, Agyness Deyn and Greta Scacchi.

The demise of the company, which was known for good taste and strong marketing, underlines the ongoing fragility of specialist film sales companies. Other sales agents have quietly gone out of business. Still others have diversified into production, TV or into local distribution in order to survive.

Fortissimo was founded in Amsterdam by festival programmers and producers Wouter Barendrecht and Helen Loveridge. Current chairman Michael J. Werner took control of the company following the departure of Loveridge, and the death of Barendrecht in 2009. Although the company kept its legal seat in the Netherlands, along with most of its back office functions, Barendrecht and Werner had already shifted its management base to Hong Kong.

That two-legged structure allowed Fortissimo to keep a close relationship with Asian art-house and emerging talents in Europe and the Middle East. The company also built up an enviable track record in feature documentaries, with its factual catalog including “Capturing the Friedmans,” “Food Inc.,” “Super Size Me,” and the Martin Scorsese-directed Rolling Stones picture “Shine A Light.”

Fortissimo is believed to have been looking for financial support for several years, though though those efforts may have been thwarted by the aftermath of the 2008 ‘Great Financial Crisis.’ More recent changes within the Chinese film industry meant that while there has been a growing volume of available finance, finance was primarily attracted to domestic Chinese and mainstream fare, with relatively little interest in exports of art-house or indie content.

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