Love, Death, and the Imagination in Dan Ireland’s The Whole Wide World
This appreciation was written for Film Comment magazine in 1996. Reflecting fond memories of SIFF film-going, this review also expressed my delight in discovering The Whole Wide World, a terrific movie by Dan Ireland, one of the founders of SIFF and an old friend. – KAM
Dan Ireland passed away on April 14, 2016, at the age of 57. We revive the piece in honor of his memory. – Editor
The citizens of Rain City have been passionate devotees of the Seattle International Film Festival for nigh on to two decades. Founded by Dan Ireland and Darryl Macdonald, a couple of optimistic entrepreneurs from Vancouver, B.C, SIFF bowed in 1976 with an l8-day slate of movies by the likes of Volker Schlöndorff and Margarethe von Trotta, Luis Buñuel, Lina Wertmüller, Claude Lelouch, Claude Chabrol, Paul Verhoeven, Ken Russell, and Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Hot stuff in the days when the small but dedicated Seattle Film Society was practically the only reliable purveyor of cutting-edge foreign film north of San Francisco. Under the quiet rain, Seattleites queued up happily.
In the two decades that followed, the Ireland-Macdonald baby kept growing, until the Seattle fest now screens 250 films over a period of nearly a month. Though three or four other theaters are often in play as venues, the true heart of this film orgy is the cavernous 800-seat Egyptian Theater, which for the faithful becomes home away from home every May-June. Those spring evenings with the likes of Krzysztof Zanussi and Michael Powell are among my happiest cinematic memories.
This past June, I returned to the city where, in spite of mildew, I thrived for nearly a quarter-century; there was an American-independent competition for best first film, and I was one of four jurors. Among the more than a dozen films in contention were Jim McKay’s Girls Town, Sal Stabile’s Gravesend, and Alan Taylor’s Palookaville—all examples of the currently fertile genre of flavorful ‘hood movies, featuring ethnic tribes of argot-speaking boys or girls looking for a way to stay alive, make a living, and/or crash out of their mean streets. Rachel Reichman’s uncompromising Work fell into this category as well, only the neighborhood is rural New York, economic and spiritual dead end for a not especially beautiful or gifted girl left behind by her summer love, a college-bound black woman.
But The Whole Wide World, the film unanimously voted best of the bunch, is a very different kind of ‘hood movie, set in a couple of backwater Texas towns in the mid-Thirties, and the boy and girl who speak its special language break out mostly through their imaginations. That The Whole Wide World (to be released at Christmas by Sony Classics) should be a first film by old friend and fest co-founder Dan Ireland brought me full circle in my remembrance of things past, and made this latest of many Egyptian bacchanals the best kind of reunion.