Dan Ireland, Director of 'The Whole Wide World' and 'Jolene,' Dies at 57

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Dan Ireland

He also co-founded the Seattle International Film Festival and served as a producer and executive at Vestron Pictures and Cineville.

Dan Ireland, the producer and director who bolstered the careers of Rene Zellweger and Jessica Chastain when he guided the actresses in The Whole Wide World and Jolene, respectively, has died. He was 57.

Ireland, who co-founded the Seattle International Film Festival in 1975 and ran the event through 1986, died Thursday at his home in Los Angeles, his manager, Paul Nelson at Mosaic, told The Hollywood Reporter. Nelson said that Ireland recently had been suffering from flu-like symptoms.

Ireland made his directing debut with the 1930s Texas-set drama The Whole Wide World (1996), starring Zellweger as a schoolteacher (in one of her first films) opposite Vincent D'Onofrio as Robert E. Howard, the pulp writer who created Conan the Barbarian.

He went on to helm such films as The Velocity of Gary (1998), Passionada (2002), Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont (2005) and Jolene, which starred Chastain, in her feature debut, as an orphan who spends a decade traveling around the U.S.

Said Chastain on Twitter: "The sweetest angel left us. Called his voicemail just to hear his voice once more. I'll miss you baby."

In September, it was announced that Ireland would direct Life Briefly, starring Bill Paxton, Ashley Judd and Ty Simpkins as Brian Knapp, the real-life youngster who overcame his blindness to become a world-class drummer and then a guitar player who performed with Johnny Cash.

Shooting was to begin in January, but Nelson said that financing for the film had fallen through at the last minute. Production was to resume shortly, he noted.


Ireland, whose father was a jukebox installer, worked as an usher and manager at theaters in Vancouver. He and his best friend Darryl Macdonald put their money together and left Canada in their late teens to restore an old theater in Seattle. Soon, they had created a film festival in the city.

At the Seattle fest, Ireland staged high-profile world premiere screenings of such films as Alien (1979), The Stunt Man (1980), The Empire Strikes Back (1980) Poltergeist (1982) and Blood Simple (1984).

A big believer in Dutch cinema, Ireland premiered the Paul Verhoeven's Soldier of Orange at the festival of 1978 and handled the U.S. sale of the film. In 1982, the Netherlands awarded him the Golden Calf — that country’s Oscar — for “exceptional contribution.”

In a statement, organizers of the Seattle fest said they were "saddened at the loss of our festival's co-founder, film director and producer Dan Ireland. His passion for bringing the fantastic, transformative and beautiful spectrum of the cinematic experience to the world was unwavering."

In 1986, Ireland came to Los Angeles to become the head of film acquisition for Vestron Pictures, and he executive produced such films as the Ken Russell pair Salome's Last Dance and The Lair of the White Worm, both released in 1988, and Anna (1987), which starred Sally Kirkland in an Oscar-nominated performance.

He also engineered John Huston’s final film, The Dead (1987).

"I'm enormously proud of some films I did for Vestron, but plenty of others convinced me I could do a better job of directing myself," he told the Los Angeles Times in a 1997 interview. "And that's when I started thinking about making my own films."

After leaving Vestron, Ireland joined Cineville as senior vp production and produced such films as Russell's Whore (1991), starring Theresa Russell, and The Crew (1994), featuring Viggo Mortensen. 

Ireland recently directed the short films Hate From a Distance (2014), made for the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act, and A Most Peculiar Man (2015), revolving around a Holocaust survivor (played by Alan Mandel) and a young man contemplating suicide.