The Seventh Fire, a film that follows two gang members on the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota, premiered on February 7 at the Berlin Film Festival to critical praise.
The film came in to the fest boasting an impressive pedigree: It’s “presented by” revered director Terrence Malick (Days of Heaven, The New World, Tree of Life) and its roster of producers includes actress Natalie Portman and director Chris Eyre.
The Seventh Fire looks at two Native gang members at decidedly different stages of their lives and, so to speak, careers. Rob Brown, a gang kingpin in his 30s, has been sentenced to prison for a fifth time and feels some remorse for having inflicted gang and drug culture on his Ojibwe community. Meanwhile, Brown’s 17-year-old protege Kevin Fineday dreams of becoming a big-time gang leader — i.e., the next Rob Brown.
The Hollywood Reporter sums up The Seventh Fire as “a fascinating and important documentary that takes some time to get going.”
The film has been a long time in the making, with origins that stretch back over a decade. In 2004, director Jack Pettibone Riccobono began visiting Ojibwe reservations to research a film about wild rice, “The Sacred Food,” which showed at the Berlin Film Festival in 2007. He later heard stories about Native gang culture, and decided to revisit White Earth to investigate. There he met Rob Brown, and decided to make the film that became The Seventh Fire.
Riccobono feels that The Seventh Fire will appeal to audiences as an important human story, but also as a piece of art. “This film is not just for that crowd that goes to see social issue documentaries,” he told Screen Daily. “We want someone to think, ‘If you like [Terrence] Malick, you might also respond to the aesthetic of this film.'” He adds that problems communities face with drugs and gangs “are American issues, not just Native American issues.”
Future plans for The Seventh Fire include screenings at reservations.