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Dan Ireland, ‘Whole Wide World’ Director Who Co-Founded Seattle Film Festival, Dies at 57

Dan Ireland, who co-founded the Seattle Film Festival, served as an acquisitions exec at Vestron Pictures and directed films including “The Whole Wide World” (1996) and “Jolene” (2008), starring Jessica Chastain, died Thursday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 57.

Chastain tweeted in memory of him.

“The sweetest angel left us. Called his voicemail just to hear his voice once more. I’ll miss you baby,” she wrote.

His directorial debut, “The Whole Wide World,” starring a young Vincent D’Onofrio and Renée Zellweger in her first film, was a biopic of Texas-born pulp fiction writer Robert E. Howard, who created Conan the Barbarian in the early years of the 20th century, and the woman in his life, played by Zellweger.

Ireland was nominated for the grand jury prize — dramatic — for the film at the 1996 Sundance Film Festival.

“The Velocity of Gary” two years later starred D’Onofrio along with Salma Hayek and Thomas Jane in a portrait of the hustlers, drag queens, prostitutes and other denizens of Times Square.

Roger Ebert was more enthused by Ireland’s first effort: “That one, about a man who sat in his room in Texas and wrote about Conan the Barbarian, was quietly, sadly gripping; in ‘The Velocity of Gary,’ there is never quite the feeling that these people occupy a real world.”

Romantic comedy “Passionada” (2002), starring Jason Isaacs, Sofia Milos and Emmy Rossum, and set in the fishing town of New Bedford, Mass., depicted the romance between a proud Portuguese widow with a daughter (Rossum) and a British man played by Isaacs. Rossum’s teenager wants to be a gambler and is aware that Isaacs’ Charlie Beck is a professional gambler himself, and not in the fishing business as he pretends to be, so she blackmails him into teaching her his tricks.

The New York Times said: “The movie, directed by Dan Ireland, oozes a warm-blooded bonhomie in the mode of ‘Moonstruck’ and ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ that makes you want to like it in spite of itself.”

Ireland’s “Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont” (2005) starred Joan Plowright as a woman who flees from her life in Scotland and checks into London’s Claremont hotel, which sports a bunch of regulars. One day she takes a tumble on the street and meets a struggling writer who becomes a friend (Rupert Friend).

Ebert said: “The movie is a delight, in ways both expected and rare.”

“Jolene” (2008) was Ireland’s last completed film, though he had several others in the works. Starring Jessica Chastain, it was based on E.L. Doctorow’s story “Jolene: A Life” and followed the life of a teenage orphan who moves from place to place across the country over a period of years.

The New York Times said: “Ms. Chastain digs deep. Surrendering to her character’s smoky voice-over and disastrous judgment, the actress finds pockets of soul in a role that’s part Jessica Rabbit, part Marilyn Monroe.”

Born in Vancouver, Ireland moved down to Seattle to co-found with Darryl Macdonald the Seattle International Film Festival, which they ran from 1975 to 1986. They also opened an arthouse, the Egyptian, in Seattle.

During his tenure he and Macdonald booked for the festival the world premieres of Joel and Ethan Coen’s “Blood Simple,” Richard Rush’s “The Stunt Man,” Irwin Kirshner’s “The Empire Strikes Back,” Ridley Scott’s “Alien,” Tobe Hooper’s “Poltergeist,” Marek Kanevska’s “Another Country” and Carl Franklin’s “One False Move”; as well as the U.S. premieres of George Miller’s “The Road Warrior,” Alan Rudolph’s “Choose Me,” Hector Babenco’s “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” Akira Kurosawa’s “Ran,” and three of Paul Verhoeven’s early Dutch films: “Soldier of Orange,” “Spetters” and “The Fourth Man.”

Ireland’s relationship with Verhoeven was key to securing distribution for his World War II film “Soldier of Orange.”

Ireland moved to Los Angeles in 1986 to lead film acquisition for Vestron Pictures. During his three years there, he exec produced or spearheaded projects including John Huston’s final film, “The Dead,” Bernard Rose’s “Paperhouse,” and three Ken Russell films: “Salome’s Last Dance,” “Lair of the White Worm” and his adaptation of D.H. Lawrence’s “The Rainbow.”

Other notable films Ireland acquired while at Vestron include the Terry Jones sex comedy “Personal Services,” Julien Temple’s “Earth Girls Are Easy” and Yurek Bogayevicz’s “Anna,” starring Sally Kirkland, who received a best actress Academy Award nomination for her performance.

After leaving Vestron Pictures, Ireland produced (with Ronaldo Vasconcellos) another Ken Russell film, “Whore,” starring Theresa Russell, and director Carl Colpaert’s “The Crew” at Cineville.

In 1995, Ireland decided to direct films for himself, starting on a high note with “The Whole Wide World.”

Ireland worked with Zellweger again on her first effort as an executive producer on the 2008 TV movie “Living Proof,” the true story of oncologist Dennis Slamon (played by Harry Connick Jr.), who helped discover the cancer drug Herceptin. Neil Meron and Craig Zadan produced the film.

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