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The Resurrection of Dark Blood

George Sluizer, the Dutch director of the classic The Vanishing, was told in 2007 after an aneurysm that he didn’t have much longer to live. As such, the filmmaker decided to spend his time tackling the one film in his oeuvre which remained unfinished: Dark Blood, starring the late actor River Phoenix. When Phoenix died in 1993, the film only had three more weeks of shooting left. But the death shuttered the whole production, and the footages were locked up.

In 2012, nearly 20 years after Phoenix’s passing, Sluizer finally managed to obtain the film and finish it in a way that makes sense despite the unfinished scenes. The veteran director, who is wheelchair-bound, attended the film’s Asian Premiere at HKIFF and spoke to the appreciative audience after the screening:

Besides the addition of the voice-over narration, did you have to make any changes to the script in order for you to complete the film?
The film was 72% shot when River Phoenix died. The film was left for a long time before I could finish it last year. What was changed? I looked at the footage and thought to myself, this is what I have, how can I make something out of it? Obviously the film you saw tonight is a little different from the original story because I did not think about what I had missed, but I thought about what I can do with what I had left. One thing now that is totally different from what was planned is the ending.

What was the experience like to shoot with the three actors in the desert?
Well, shooting in the desert was my choice – I personally chose the location, which is far away from civilization. Regarding the actors, I would say that we started off very well in the beginning with all three. I have to say that it became a bit tougher with Judy Davis out of the three. But for the rest, you saw our collaboration in the film, and I personally think the acting is quite good.

Is the film a metaphor? For example, the film could be a reflection of American history, with the natives having their land taken away from them by the invading white Europeans, as represented by Jonathan Pryce’s character.
The analysis is very correct, so I don’t have much to add. Just to make it very clear, the territory where we shot was Native American territory, and it was very important for me to have this double culture – let’s call it the Hollywood culture on one side, and Native American culture on the other side, and River Phoenix’s character is somewhere in between.

What was River Phoenix like to work with as a person?
He was a very gentle, very nice person to work with. A nice human being. I had zero problems working with him, except for his unfortunate death at the end, of course. He worked by his instinct. He was dyslexic; he could not learn lines like a normal person. You’d have to give him some freedom – not to invent, but to be free in his acting. Let’s just say that he was not a Shakespearean actor – he was someone who understands a character, lives that character, and plays it out.
In the beginning, I asked Phoenix if he minded that I was an older director. And he said, no way, I respect older people because they have more experience than I have. And this is quite uncommon in America to hear young people talking like that – they usually try to get rid of the older generation. [laughs].

You said that the original ending is different from this final version’s ending. Could you tell us more about what the differences are?
I don’t remember [the audience bursts into laughter at the deadpan]. I’m not joking, but I am in a way. But the whole point is that I tried to avoid what was in the original because I did not have all the material, and so I had to make a new ending for *this* story that I have in hand.