SIFF 2014: 40th Anniversary Special Presentation of The Whole Wide World–Saturday, June 7 — Anniversary Post

My last anniversary post from 2014 is bittersweet. Seeing The Whole Wide World on 35mm (at a time when 35mm was getting rarer and rarer) is one of my fondest memories from any of the festivals, and yet just two years later, SIFF would be mourning the loss of the film’s director (and SIFF co-founder), Dan Ireland. Also, like many of the links to SIFF’s old web page, one of the ones I cite below is no longer active, so I’ve removed the link, but kept the text.

Carl Spence and director (and SIFF co-founder) Dan Ireland
Carl Spence and director (and SIFF co-founder) Dan Ireland

The first Seattle International Film Festival began on May 14, 1976, at the Moore Egyptian Theatre and ended on May 31 (there was no 13th Seattle International Film Festival, which is why this year is the 40th Seattle International Film Festival).  Dan Ireland and Darryl Macdonald (which I’ve also seen spelled MacDonald) started the festival a year after taking over the Moore Theatre and renaming it the Moore Egyptian Theatre.  The first festival showed 18 films.  In 1985, the festival moved to the Egyptian Theatre on Capitol Hill, which was renovated (as was the Moore) by Ireland and Macdonald. (Sources: and SIFF History)  Therefore, it’s appropriate that not only would the 40th festival show one of Ireland’s films (his first feature), but that they would show it at the newly opened Egyptian Theatre.

Before the feature film, however, there was a short, and before the short, there was a wait period, as Carl Spence, Ireland, and Macdonald were all on hand to fiddle with the equipment after the previous screening in order to make sure that Ireland’s screening went off flawlessly.  That meant that passholders were put in a “holding area” in the lobby before being allowed to enter the theater.  Our passes were all prescanned, as well.

Once all was well, we took our seats, the ticketholders took their seats, and we were treated to an introduction by Spence.  Besides mentioning that Ireland and Macdonald started the Seattle International Film Festival, he thanked the sponsors (as the presenters always do), which in this case were board member Aron Michael Thompson, who underwrote the screening, and the always awesome Scarecrow Video, who has sponsored several of the screenings I’ve gone to at the festival.

Then Dan Ireland came out, thanking Carl for opening four screens that had been closed (three at the Uptown, one at the Egyptian).  He said his and Darryl’s hearts had hurt when the Egyptian had closed.  After that, he introduced the world premiere of his short, “Hate from a Distance.”  The story had originally come to him from Dennis Yares while Ireland was filming Jolene with Jessica Chastain (Yares wrote the screenplay).  The film coincides with the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act and centers around an image that horrified Ireland when he first saw it: that of a mother dressing her son in a KKK outfit (the photo appears onscreen at the end of the film).  Ireland then introduced the cast and crew members in the audience and had them stand, which were Yares (writer, producer), Kate Krieger (actress), and Harry Gregson-Williams (composer).  He also thanked Darryl for continuing the festival after he left to pursue directing.

“Hate from a Distance” is an excellent short film that tells of racism as seen through the eyes of a child.  Danny Baker (Asher Angel) is a young white boy whose father Ned (Brendan Bradley) is forever at odds with his black neighbor, Clyde (Rashawn Underdue), despite the fact that they used to be friends when boys.  Danny traces the animosity back to when Clyde tried to prove that he had a claim on the land that Ned owned, only to have the deed ripped up before his face by the judge.  The current dispute is that Clyde’s children steal potatoes from Ned’s property.  The film ties in the Biblical story of King Nebuchadnezzar and the three men in the furnace with the house that is set on fire near the end of the short.  The film is dedicated to the four girls killed in the Birmingham church bombing, an act that helped lead to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  The dedication is preceded by a quote from Nelson Mandela: “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion.  People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

Dennis Yares, Kate Krieger, and Harry Gregson-Williams are asked a question by Ireland

When the short ended, Spence and Ireland were joined onstage by Yares, Krieger, and Gregson-Williams for a short Q & A.  Having come from Canada, Ireland noticed a difference in how blacks were treated in the U.S.  He said we shouldn’t look at “how far we’ve come, but how far we have to go.”  Spence asked if Ireland was worried the film was too dark.  “Of course!” Ireland said, but he wanted to make a statement.  Spence then wanted to talk about the music.  For that, Gregson-Williams (who has scored all of Ireland’s films) had written a gospel-like piece prior to being asked, which Ireland decided to use.

D.D. Yares expounds on an answer
Yares expounds on an answer

Then Ireland talked about Krieger and her character.  Even though Krieger is the most talented actress (or actor) he’s mentored, when he came to her with this character (who plays Danny’s mother), he told her, “This is the most constipated character you’ll ever play.”  Krieger wasn’t the only person acting in the film who Ireland has mentored; he also mentored Bradley.  As for Angel, there’s a different connection: he’s Yares’s grandson.  Though child actors can be “terrifying,” Ireland said, “Working with Asher is a dream.”

The film will be playing at the Museum of Tolerance on July 2nd.

The Whole Wide World (Dan Ireland, 111 mins, USA 1996)

Renée Zellweger as Novalyne Price and Vincent D’Onofrio as Robert Howard (Photo courtesy of SIFF)

Before The Whole Wide World was screened, Ireland shared a message that D’Onofrio had sent him (he couldn’t be there because he was shooting elsewhere).  In it, he said the film will always be close to his heart.  “I consider The Whole Wide World a classic,” he continued.  Also, there is a scene in the movie where he is swinging a sword, which had to be sharp enough to cut blades of grass.  At the end of the scene, he plunges the blade into the ground.  When he looked down, he noticed that the blade had only missed his foot by centimeters, and he thought, “Only for Dan.  Only for Dan.”

Zellweger also couldn’t be there, as she was attending her mom’s birthday on the East Coast (“That’s what I love about her, ” Ireland said).  Ireland had Spence read her message, in which she wrote, “Hi Danny boy!” and gave instructions to embarrass the brilliant composer (Gregson-Williams), but to embarrass Vinny (D’Onofrio) even more.  She also thanked D’Onofrio for helping her act (by putting it all out there).

We then learned that we would be seeing a print, and not just any print, but Ireland’s personal print (according to Ireland, it’s the only print out there, which is a shame)!  Spence also mentioned that they rigged the speaker system from McCaw Hall so that the movies at the Egyptian would sound better than they had in the past.

(Photo courtesy of SIFF)
(Photo courtesy of SIFF)

The Whole Wide World opened SIFF 22 in 1996.  People who saw it back then recall it with fondness, and indeed, it is a wonderful film about the relationship between Texas schoolteacher Novalyne Price and Conan the Barbarian author Robert Howard.  Howard is uncouth, doesn’t like others, and isn’t respectable, but he has a good heart, is a good writer, and has a great imagination.  There is much made about his closeness to his mother, which might have prevented him from having any sort of romantic relationship, but the movie is really about two people who cared deeply for each other, even when they wouldn’t admit it.  The script is well-written, the acting is great, the Texas sunsets sumptuous (colors really pop more on film than they do on DCP–especially reds), and to watch a print, despite a few frames that had a bit of dust in them, was such a treat.  Sweet and sad, this is a lovely piece of work.

Like most of his criticism, Roger Ebert’s review of this film really gets to its heart.  If my review doesn’t convince you to see this movie, I hope his more detailed review does.