Dan Ireland, cofounder of the Seattle International Film Festival, former acquisitions exec at Vestron Pictures, and film director who gave both Jessica Chastain and Renee Zellweger their first film roles died in his Los Angeles home Thursday at 57. The news was made public by actress Jessica Chastain on Twitter, who starred in his 2008 film Jolene, her film debut. “The sweetest angel left us,” she said. “Called his voicemail just to hear his voice once more. I’ll miss you baby.”
Originally from Vancouver, Ireland began his career at 17 when he co-founded SIFF with Darryl Macdonald, which the two would run from 1975 through 1986. During this period, among the films that world premiered at the festival were The Coen Brothers’ Blood Simple, Richard Rush’s The Stunt Man, The Empire Strikes Back, Ridley Scott’s Alien, Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist, Marek Kanevska’s Another Country, among others, as well as the American premieres of such films as George Miller’s The Road Warrior, and Paul Verhoeven’s Soldier of Orange. Ireland was also awarded the Golden Calf Award in 1983 for his contribution to advancing Dutch cinema in the United States.
“SIFF is 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,” the organization said in a statement today. “His continued support for the mission of our organization inspired us and his smile brightened our Festival events annually. Dan will be missed but his legacy lives on as SIFF continues to shine a light in the dark as a leading presenter of the moving image.”
“Dan Ireland loved this Festival and it loved him. He was a great friend and impresario on all things whether it be about film or life,” said SIFF Artistic Director Carl Spence. “I will forever remember his infectious smile, laugh, and incredible wit and reparté. There will never be another Dan Ireland in the world. Although I am devastated at the news, I have some solace in the fact that he touched my life and forever changed me.”
Ireland left SIFF and moved to Los Angeles in 1986 to become head of Film Acquisition for Vestron Pictures, serving in that position for three years. During his tenure, he spearheaded such films as John Huston’s final film, The Dead, and the Ken Russell films Salome’s Last Dance, Lair Of The White Worm‘, and The Rainbow. Other acquisitions from this period include Terry Jones’ Personal Services, Earth Girls Are Easy, and the Oscar-nominated film Anna from Yurek Bogayevicz.
Leaving Vestron, Ireland went into film production, producing Ken Russell’s Whore, but soon transitioned to directing, his debut film being 1996’s The Whole Wide World. The biopic about Conan The Barbarian creator Robert E. Howard starred Vincent D’Onofrio and Renée Zellweger, and was nominated for the dramatic grand jury prize at the 1996 Sundance Film Festival. He followed that up with another collaboration with D’Onofrio, 1998’s The Velocity of Gary, about hustlers, drag queens, prostitutes and other colorful characters of Times Square. His other films include 2002’s Passionada, starring Jason Isaacs, Sofia Milos and Emmy Rossum, 2005’s Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont, and his final finished film, 2008’s Jolene, with Jessica Chastain.
“Dan was the most loving, generous and kind man. He always put others ahead of himself. Film was his passion and he was brilliant with bringing out the heart and emotion of an actor in his pieces,” Ireland’s manager, Paul Nelson said in a statement. “He was so proud to work in discovering new actors. It’s a devastating loss for me and all his beloved friends and family. He will be in my heart always.”