The Seventh Fire

My review of the feature doc The Seventh Fire is at The Metropolist and below.

The Seventh Fire is a drama documentary concentrating on the poverty and social deprivation of the Native American Ojibwe tribe living deep within Minnesota’s White Earth Indian Reservation. The very fact that the reservation is still referred to in some areas as the ‘Indian’ reservation goes some way to showing the cultural, political and sociological barriers still in evidence.

Jake Pettibone Riccobono’s feature debut provides a far reaching view of the deep rooted problems facing these people. Concentrating on two men, the older Rob Brown and 17 year old Kevin, the film charts the trials of living in a community where crime and violence is part of the natural order of things.

The Seventh Fire poster

Brown, a complex character in his early 40’s, is about to face prison for the fifth time. Throughout the film he struggles to understand his responsibility in continuing down a path of destruction and abuse. The sharpness and wit of Brown’s self-reflection is brought out in sympathetic detail, and a character emerges of both victim and anti-hero fighting back against a repressive system. This is granted extra emphasis on the soundtrack, with Brown’s style of rap-poetry, worked on during long hours in the cell, given the space and room to impress.

The character of Kevin is more troubling. The teen meth addict and dealer aims to be the biggest drug lord on the reservation, and is clearly inspired by Brown’s prison exploits. He seems to have his life mapped out already, with a desire for more cash, drugs and power the only thing keeping him going. But underneath the tough guy exterior however is just another lost young man.

The script doesn’t hold back, and is not interested in showing the men in their best light. Indeed, this is a tough watch, with hard hitting points to make about American society and crimes of the past. The men are, in effect, victims of an abusive society and have been marked by their experiences just as clearly as the intricate tattoos they are so eager to display.

The Seventh Fire is a profoundly moving film, with haunting lessons to teach and difficult questions to ask. The executive production team, including Terrence Malick and Natalie Portman, clearly saw something in the original screenplay more than worthy of attention, and one can only applaud their decision to triumph the work.

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