The last film that River Phoenix ever made, Dark Blood, screened today out of competition at the Berlin Film Festival. The existential Western, originally shot in 1993 but uncompleted at the time of Phoenix’s death in October that year, is still tangled up in a rights conundrum, but sources close to the project believe it will eventually see a commercial release.
The film has a storied history. About 80% of it was shot before Phoenix died of a drug overdose outside the Viper Room in West Hollywood. At the time, the unfinished product reverted to the film’s insurance company before director George Sluizer (The Vanishing) recovered it and sequestered it away. At a press conference in Berlin today, Sluizer explained that in 1999 he learned the footage was going to be destroyed and within two days was able to save it and take it back to Holland. Sluizer said the material “laid in my care for many years waiting for something to happen with it. I was making other films at the time and it was safe.” But when he learned he had a life-threatening aneurism in 2007, he decided, “Before I die I want to put Dark Blood together as best I can.” For the scenes that were not completed at the time of Phoenix’s death, Sluizer provides his own voice-over.