The director of Dark Blood, the film River Phoenix was working on when he died of a drug overdose in 1993, has finally completed the motion picture and hopes it will be released “soon.”
Dutch director George Sluizer, who had finished shooting around 80% of the film at the time of Phoenix’s death, said that a recent health scare had spurred him on to complete the project.
“A few years ago, I had an aneurysm and was told I was going to die quite quickly,” he said. “I said, well I want to finish the film and to leave not a garbage bag of film, but something decent. And that’s what I did in 2011, and the post production until today.”
Dark Blood stars Phoenix as Boy, a widower and hermit who lives on a nuclear testing site where he makes dolls he believes are imbued with magical powers. Judy Davis and Jonathan Pryce also appear in the film as a couple whose car breaks down in the desert, and who are aided by Boy.
The film was only 11 days away from completion when it was abandoned in 1993, and it has been stuck in limbo for almost 20 years because of behind-the-scenes financial disagreements.
Sluizer said: “After it was decided by all the people involved that the film would stop… there was a problem between the insurance [company] and the bank who did the cash flow for the film.
“They didn’t agree on one bill, and they did not agree about who might own the negatives. That went on for nearly seven years. And in the mean time, the film was in storage in a locked area.”
In fact, Sluizer grew so exasperated with the situation that he took matters into his own hands to get the negatives back.
He recalled: “The two companies decided ‘We’re fed up with fighting each other’. The insurance were anxious not to pay more storage costs. So finally it was decided they would burn the material.
“I got some friends and someone who can open locks to open the storage house and get the stuff out. I did not do it myself, but I’m responsible for… getting it on a truck and getting it away during the night and having it go to New York and then later shipped to Europe.”
After smuggling the film back to Holland, Sluizer set about attempting to patch over its missing scenes with still photographs, moving images salvaged from the cutting room floor and his own narration.
“I did my best – with the material I had – to make it an understandable and plausible story. Apparently people say it works,” he told BBC News.
Sluizer’s cut of Dark Blood was given a very limited premiere in September at the Netherlands Film Festival in Utrecht, where it played in front of an invited audience.
Now happy with the film, Sluizer said: “When it will have a bigger release, I cannot tell you. But I certainly think it will quite soon.”