The Strange Saga of River Phoenix's Final Film

But money couldn't solve the biggest problem: how to stitch the incomplete material into a coherent film that people might actually want to sit through. After much deliberation — Could he somehow incorporate animation? Make it a silent film? — Sluizer settled on a voice-over to fill in the narrative gaps. He thought about having an actor do it, but in the end he just chose to use his own voice. (At one time it was reported that he wanted Joaquin Phoenix to do the voice-over, but Sluizer says that was never something he seriously considered.) ''It took many months before I came to the most simple solution,'' says the director, who now spends most of his time in Nice, France. ''I decided to just tell what's missing.''

Will anyone want to hear the gruff-voiced auteur narrate his own unfinished film? Some viewers will find out how well Sluizer's solution works when Dark Blood premieres at the Netherlands Film Festival on Sept. 27. Sluizer, for one, is pleased with how the movie turned out. ''It's a complete film,'' he says. ''It's not pieces stuck together. It has a beginning and it goes up to the end, like it should. The film is finished.''

At this point, Dark Blood's future is uncertain. It could screen at more festivals (''I have at least 25 invitations,'' Sluizer says), along with noncommercial venues like schools and museums. Because of the situation with the insurance company, the director doesn't own commercial rights to the film, so any potential theatrical or DVD release would have to be negotiated down the road. And his medical situation remains precarious. ''I'm busy trying to keep alive,'' he says. ''My whole body is a wreck.'' In December, doctors told Sluizer that, among other issues, he has a dangerous aneurysm in his abdomen. ''I'm a dying person,'' he says.

But in some ways, Sluizer's poor health is liberating: He doesn't really care what anyone else thinks. ''I have the advantage of being, as I call it, a man after death and before death,'' he says, referring to that near-fatal aortic dissection in 2007. ''I have total freedom of doing what I think is useful, valid, and correct. That's my motivation, and that's good enough.''

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