“Dark Blood,” River Phoenix’s final film, was in production when Phoenix died of a drug overdose in 1993. Production was immediately shut down and it took almost two decades for director George Sluizer to complete the film using his own voiceover. Though it screened at the 2013 Berlinale, due to legal issues, the film has never gotten a theatrical release.
Now sound designer Harold Jalving, who collaborated with Sluizer on the 2012 cut of the film, is developing “Never Give Up,” a documentary about the story of the film and the legal battle that ensued, with hopes that it will lead to “Dark Blood’s” theatrical release.
Along with Phoenix, “Dark Blood” stars Jonathan Pryce and Judy Davis as Hollywood couple Buffy and Henry, who take a break from it all in the New Mexico desert. It’s there that they meet Boy, who falls in love with Buffy.
When the film screened at the Berlinale, Indiewire wrote, “The film in its present state is really something. Sluizer’s voiceover explanation of the scenes that were not shot is at once poetic and unbelievably graphic.”
Jalving has turned to Indiegogo to raise funds for the documentary. He has set the goal at $180,000. According to the Indiegogo page, the documentary will feature Sluizer’s family, as well as the original cast and crew of the film, including famed cinematographer Ed Lachman.
Sluizer had completed 80 percent of the “Dark Blood” takes in 1993 when Phoenix died. The recordings were shut down while the insurance company became the legal owner of the shot material and sued Phoenix’ family, claiming River had broken his contract.
When the insurance company announced plans to destroy the recordings in 1999, Sluizer took action to save the film. In 2012, he finally succeeded in completing the movie. In addition to the Berlinale, “Dark Blood” successfully premiered at the Netherlands Film Festival and screened at festivals in Miami, Sao Paulo and Moscow.
Sluizer passed away in 2014. His last wish was that the movie be shown to audiences someday. “Therefore, our documentary has two missions,” Jalving wrote on the Indiegogo page. “We want to tell the extraordinary story of ‘Dark Blood’ and get the film released as well.”