The Seventh Fire

A Film Review by Justin Eagle Gauthier

There are few examples of true portrayals of reservation life in the film world. Director Jack Pettibone Riccobono’s documentary, “The Seventh Fire,” attempts to show just that, warts and all. The film follows Robert “Rob” Brown and Kevin Fineday Jr. through their lives on the White Earth reservation in northern Minnesota.

seventh fire film jacketFrom the opening image of a discarded recliner aflame on a housing roadside, the film impresses upon the viewer its stretch toward realness. While there are scenes within the documentary that feel set-up and contrived by the production, there are others that feel as though the filmmakers were towed along into a world totally outside of their control. In them, Riccobono approaches what could be considered an accurate facsimile of what life is like for certain residents of the Pine Point (or P-Town) community.

Some viewers may find the footage shocking, saddening, or maddening, but the decision to show unfiltered drug and alcohol use in everyday life is a reality that cannot and should not be ignored. The discomfort of viewing adults using drugs around children is undeniable and the empathy viewers will feel toward the subjects will ebb and flow. Yet through bearing witness to these acts and allowing a processing of emotions, a viewer cannot help but be imprinted by this movie.

The protagonists of the film both find themselves at critical points in their lives. Rob Brown faces an impending prison sentence, another sentence in a life spent in and out of prisons of one kind or another. Through one-on-one interviews with Brown and witnessing interactions with his family and community, we are given insight into the difficulty of his life.

It’d be an oversimplification to blame Brown for his bleak situation. In an especially telling scene, he sits across a desk from his court-appointed public defender while wearing a county jail issued uniform and reads through his history of involvement with the law. In hearing the life-long history of incarceration and listening to Brown’s regretful admissions and simple aspirations in later interviews, the audience is forced to reconcile just how stacked the deck is against certain members of our society.

Meanwhile, Kevin Fineday Jr. aspires to be the reservation’s next biggest drug dealer, yet he also sees the futility of his aspirations. Though the description for the film states that Fineday is a protégé of Brown, their relationship doesn’t appear to be one of mentorship. Instead, they seem to relate to each other as friends both stuck in paths of life they did not choose nor are able to control.

“The Seventh Fire,” is a bracing, visceral film that doesn’t apologize for its unflinching portrayals.

Menominee Tribal member Justin Eagle Gauthier has been featured in several literary journals. He is currently enrolled in the LoRez MFA program in creative writing studying screenwriting at the Institute of American Indian Arts.