By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
Several years ago Oberst & I visited the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota on our way to Colorado, in part to see the monument at the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre and in part to see just what a Reservation looked like today. It was one of the most depressing places I’ve ever been, and one shocking to believe exists in the most affluent nation on Earth.
Every bit as disheartening as it looks.
The Seventh Fire follows two members of a northern Minnesota reservation, Rob Brown, about to head back to prison for the fifth time due to drug trafficking charges, and Kevin, a teenager just entering that same life of crime with big dreams for it.
What Jack Pettibone Riccobono does extremely well with his directorial debut is immerse us into a world too many Americans would like to or have completely forgotten about. Most Indian Reservations are uniquely hopeless places, often far from the public eye and lacking in the kinds of social programs that might bring even a glimmer of potential to escape them.
The result is the lifestyle The Seventh Fire documents, where apparently sympathetic and intelligent men like Rob and Kevin build even uglier lives out of the cheap glamour of drug dealing and the strangely conflated gangbanger and Native Warrior mythos that’s built up around it in the Reservations. It’s easy to understand these two, to pity them, but also be repulsed by the decisions they make while the camera’s there, because camera or no, this is their life.
A final raise of the glass should go to Riccobono’s lensing of this film, which is stark but often gorgeous. It’s easy to see why folks with as dissimilar backgrounds as Terence Malick, Natalie Portman, and Chris Eyre chose to throw their weight behind his talent and help get this made.
This doc meanders without a lot of narrative backbone or understanding of the time that’s passing in these people’s lives. While this contributes to the sense of immersion in the day to day struggles on the White Earth Indian Reservation, it impedes the conclusions Riccobono intermittently seems to be driving towards.
The Seventh Fire gets an awful lot on camera that almost feels voyeuristic- drunk characters contemplating cheating, people on probation doing lines of cocaine- just a lot that seems like it’ll make these folks’ already shitty lives that much worse when everybody they know sees this documentary. As a filmmaker, I’m not sure I’d want to be in the middle of that, but maybe that’s part of why I’m not a documentary filmmaker.
I also probably need to get my lazy ass off the couch first.
The Seventh Fire is an illuminating look at a uniquely American brand of hopelessness, and two men who make lives for better and often worse in the face of it.
High-Rise (2016) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for drug use
Take a Drink: for promises to pursue a better life
Take a Drink: for jail
Take a Drink: for interpersonal drama
Do a Shot: whenever you see something on fire