Director George Sluizer has revealed that he expects the legal issues surrounding Dark Blood to be resolved within the next “four weeks.”
There is therefore a real chance that the film, marking young star River Phoenix’s final performance as an actor, may at last receive mainstream distribution.
The film was abandoned in 1993 following Phoenix’s death 11 days before shooting was completed. At that time, the film’s insurers paid out a sum believed to be around $7 million and the production was closed down.
In 1999, amid disputes between the bank that cashflowed the movie and the insurance company over who owned the negative, Sluizer took the footage back to the Netherlands to prevent it being destroyed. He has now edited it into an “unfinished” film, which premiered at the Holland Film Meeting in Utrecht on Thursday night. Sluizer himself provides narration to cover the parts in the film that were never shot.
Sluizer is now hoping to strike a deal with the rightful owners (once their identity has been established beyond doubt). The film’s executive producer Nik Powell has also expressed confidence that a deal can be struck with the owners to ensure that the film can be distributed.
“The boy done good,” Powell commented after seeing Sluizer’s cut of the film in Utrecht. “I just want to say, as one of the film’s original producers with Steve Woolley and JoAnne Sellar, you have done a most remarkable job. I came here very sceptical about what could be done with this wonderful footage.”
Sluizer said that he had been given the non-commercial rights by Nik Powell.
“Things are going well. In a few weeks, maybe four weeks, I should be able to say, ‘OK, there is a settlement which makes it possible to do anything which any producer would do,’” Sluizer said.
The Dutch director said he had been gratified by the largely enthusiastic response to his version of the film, which was given a standing ovation at its first screening.
“To be very honest, if I would be thinking this is a piece of shit, I would say that’s the way life goes, you’re successful or you’re not. But I would say that the creative work that is in this film, from both actors and crew..is worthwhile to be kept and hopefully shown to people who are interested in such a movie,” the director commented.
The film, co-starring Jonathan Pryce and Judy Davis, was produced by JoAnne Sellar, who is now the producer of Paul Thomas Anderson’s films (including awards contender The Master.)
Phoenix’s family has had no part in Sluizer’s completion of the film. However, at the premiere on Thursday, the director read out part of a letter from Phoenix’s mother, Heart Phoenix.
“After a long process of mourning, Heart Phoenix, River Phoenix’s mother, decided that River’s legacy would go into a foundation (The River Phoenix Center For Peacebuilding.) She also decided that the Phoenix family would not participate in any way in anything to do with River’s film oeuvre,” Sluizer noted. “River’s mother wrote me a letter recently and I quote: ‘still, we are all inspired by the memory of River.’ She wishes me a better health and writes that (she hopes) ‘my work may find acknowledgement tonight.”
Neither Jonathan Pryce (currently appearing as King Lear on stage in London) nor Judy Davis were in Utrecht for the screening. However, cinematographer Ed Lachman and exec producer Nik Powell were among the guests.