Last Thursday at the Dutch Film Festival in Utrecht, George Sluizer's "new" film Dark Blood premiered in front of a non-paying audience. The few Dutch reviews which are slowly appearing on the Internet are favorable, yet the question if there ever will be a commercial screening of this film is still unanswered. It sure took long enough to get even this screening arranged: all footage of Dark Blood was shot in 1993. The road from then to the world premiere has been very bumpy.
Back in the early 90s, Dutch director George Sluizer was able to start several projects after the international success of his 1988 film Spoorloos (The Vanishing) and the 1992 US remake of that film, which he also directed himself. In 1993 shooting started on Dark Blood, a psychological thriller about a couple whose car breaks down in the desert. Thankfully they are saved by a young man living by himself on a nuclear testing ground. However, the young man decides to keep the couple as prisoners and await the end of the world with them.
Starring in the film were River Phoenix as the young man, and Judy Davis and Jonathan Pryce as the couple. But with only 80 percent of the film in the can, Phoenix suddenly died of a drug overdose during a visit to Los Angeles.
Without a quick solution on how to get the film finished, producer New Line Cinema took its loss and got insurance money. In return, the insurance company got the film, and legal wrangling over what to do with the footage began.
According to an interview George Sluizer gave to Cineville.nl in July, the following happened: In 1999 the insurance company finally decided that the footage wasn't going to be earning any money for them, so they tried to donate it to the film libraries of UCLA and AFI. Both rejected the offer because it contained unedited materials. As the footage was on 700 kilos of stock and storage costs money, the insurance company then decided to burn it. When director George Sluizer heard about that plan, he quickly hired some people and had the footage stolen from the insurance company's vault. He managed to successfully get the film to The Netherlands, but of course it was legally impossible to do anything with it.
George Sluizer is currently 80 years old and suffering from a medical condition which causes his arteries to become very weak. Earlier this year he heard he had in all probability only a few more months to live. Wanting to finish the film no matter what, he started a crowdfunding project to raise the necessary funds. Working with local production company Eyeworks (of New Kids Turbo and Nova Zembla fame), Sluizer managed to get the film in watchable condition, with a score attached. The missing footage has been replaced by a voice-over explaining the missing bits over some stills in the beginning of the film, a solution the audience didn't seem to mind this week.
Eyeworks is currently exploring the possibilities of how to get Dark Blood commercially released, but that will probably not happen while director Sluizer is still alive. He is allowed to show the film in free screenings, though, and that's how it's currently being presented in The Netherlands.
I will be present at the next such screening, next Tuesday, and will write a review.
For now, here is the trailer for the unfinished version of a few months back.