“One out of ten every ten years will make it out of here”

This is the stark truth that Jack Pettibone Riccobono’s The Seventh Fire attempts to portray; drugs, gangs, violence and perhaps most importantly, a loss or lack of culture.

The film, which recently debuted at the 65th International Film Festival in Berlin, follows Rob Brown, a Native American gang leader on a remote Minnesota reservation, and Kevin, his teenaged, somewhat protégé. Whilst the events for each protagonist vary, we can clearly see them as two points on the same, sorrowful timeline. Brown is on a week-long furlough before heading off for his fifth stint in prison (now totalling 15 years), Kevin is torn between a desire to truly make something of his life, or stick with the cards he’s been dealt and become one of the area’s biggest drug dealers.

At the heart of both stories is a detachment from traditional, Native American culture, but also the question of what that traditional culture really is now in the modern world? Brown comments that a ‘tradition’ is an act that a people repeats across generations, sadly concluding from this that his people’s traditions are now reduced to drinking, gambling and drug abuse. Both Brown and Kevin express a longing for “traditional” community and values, but are pained by the fact that this no longer exists, and that perhaps themselves, and others like them, are the cause of its disappearance.

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As an audience, we struggle to weigh up pity or anger towards the duo. With Kevin, most of the time he doesn’t seem like “such a bad kid”, but his reputation as a dishonest dealer (double whammy) precedes him, and most of his peers keep well away. Similarly, Brown has been chewed up and spat out by the system, abused and fostered as a child; he seemingly loves his own family very much, but cannot tear himself away from his criminal ways. The pathos of Brown’s constant spiral downwards is emphasised by the revelation that he is also a talented writer and poet, with dreams of future publication. 

Historically of course, we all know how Native Americans have suffered at the hands of their neo-native counterparts, so we balance Brown and Kevin’s mishaps with the near inevitability of their situations. It is hard to decide whether they and others like them are the cause of all this pain, or a symptom of a much larger problem.

Whilst the subject matter here is truly interesting, the film itself lacks focus and direction. Though visually enthralling, too many times does it feel like a bland landscape, with no particular focal points or outcroppings. What am I watching? What is the point here? There’s too much ebb and not enough flow. As an audience there’s a distinct lack of solid objects for us to pivot against and engage with.

2.5/5

Dir: Jack Pettibone Riccobono

Scr: Jack Pettibone Riccobono, Shane Slattery-Quintanilla, Andrew Ford

Prd: Joey Carey, Jack Pettibone Riccobono, Jihan Robinson, Shane Slattery-Quintanilla

DOP: Jack Pettibone Riccobono, Shane Slattery-Quintanilla

Music: Nicolas Britell

Country: USA

Year: 2015

Run time: 78 mins 

The Seventh Fire screened as part of the East End Film Festival on 7 July 2015.