Rob Brown takes a moment to consider his beloved Ojibwe community, and pronounces its new tradition: booze and bingo. Director Jack Pettibone Riccobono gives us plenty of cut-away shots of the things that used to feature strongly in the aboriginal culture: water, trees, and sky, but those days are gone. Today Brown’s remote Minnesotan reserve is in the business of methamphetamine, and the meat of The Seventh Fire is in following gang leader Brown and the path of destruction he’s hewn within his own tribe.
Brown’s teenaged protégé Kevin is already a drug user and a drug pusher, well on his way to the life of crime exemplified by his idol. Brown is pretty blasé about his recent unlaw-abiding behavior until he’s confronted with his 5th stint in prison, a 58 month stretch that has him sweating but not quite with regret.
Riccobono and his crew are given startling access to this community, and it’s unreal how unconcerned his subjects are with being filmed at their worst. In fact, as time goes by, you realize how mundane the drug culture has become. Fathers manufacture drugs at the kitchen table, very young children are snorting openly, kids use their culture’s very sacred tradition of pow-wow to score drugs or to sell them.
Though the word is never spoken aloud, Riccobono gives us a real sense of hopelessness from the community. Parents dejectedly feel it’s too late for their kids, not yet of legal age but already parents themselves, sixteen and sadly indifferent about their own childhoods borne in violence and addictions, and about their own kids doomed to repeat the cycle.
Rob Brown has a mea culpa while in prison, words that sound right and true, but come a little too easily when one is behind bars and untested. Whether or not he owns up to his responsibility on the outside is a matter to be seen – although if one were to judged based on footage over the past hour of the documentary, it’s not a promising picture.
The documentary manages neither to judge nor to excuse, but provides an unflinching eye toward a people who seem lost and forgotten. The Seventh Fire is a heartbreaking work about loss: loss of culture, of identity, and ultimately, of freedom.
This review first appeared at Cinema Axis.