When Rob Brown, a Native American gang leader on a remote Minnesota reservation, is sentenced to prison for a fifth time, he must confront his role in bringing violent drug culture into his...
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When Rob Brown, a Native American gang leader on a remote Minnesota reservation, is sentenced to prison for a fifth time, he must confront his role in bringing violent drug culture into his beloved Ojibwe community. As Rob reckons with his past, his seventeen-year-old protégé, Kevin, dreams of the future - becoming the biggest drug dealer on the reservation. Terrence Malick presents this haunting and visually arresting nonfiction film about the gang crisis in Indian Country.Written by
This documentary is produced by Terrence Malick, who took on the myth of the Native American in his Pocahontas adaptation The New World. But the place we see in this brutal and moving film is a far cry from the Native American ideal we typically see depicted on film. Pine Point Village, deep within the White Earth Indian Reservation, is a place of crushing poverty.
The focus is on two members of the community: Robert, a man in his forties, about to return to prison for the Nth time; and Kevin, on the cusp of his 18th birthday, trying to retire from a life of crystal meth abuse and low-level dealing. Problem is they both live in a town where drugs and violence are "a natural part of life".
Jack Pettibone Riccobono's style is objective and unsentimental, with cameras silently following the travails of the two, and their interactions with friends, clients, and law enforcement officers. The music is quietly brooding, and often matched by the imagery: storm clouds rolling in, and lightning striking the desolate earth. Furniture burns on sidewalks and kids fire BB guns, and everyone is smashed on booze and powder.
The two subjects are carefully chosen: Robert represents one possible (likely?) future for Kevin. Offending and re-offending; a cycle of freedom and incarceration. Robert's native name is "Two Thunderbirds". Thunderbirds, he explains, fly ahead and warn of encroaching storms. A wannabe writer, Robert sounds thoughtful and soulful in prison – once he's away from the bleak community that both ruins him and keeps him sane.
I came away from The Seventh Fire with a real sense of the lack of options available to those living on the reservation. (Or the perceived lack of options, anyway.) Kevin enrols on a gang intervention course, to start in the fall. But in the meantime he remains in the same hermetically sealed world that keeps him down, and he slips off the filmmakers' radar. When we glimpse him again, the disappointment is devastating. Can't he see the storm coming?
Your heart will hurt – not for the individuals, necessarily, but for a society with so much wealth and pride, yet which provides so many locked doors, and fosters so little hope.
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