In just over 70 minutes, Jack Pettibone Riccobono’s debut documentary “The Seventh Fire” covers enough ground to function as a character study, an ethnography and a social issue film, all in one. By tackling the larger issue of Native American gangs through the story of two northwest Minnesota drug dealers, Riccobono personalizes a problem that deserves more attention.
“The Seventh Fire” is mostly about a middle-aged lifelong criminal named Rob Brown, who lives in a small village on the larger White Earth Reservation, with his poetic daughter Persephone and a teenage protégé named Kevin. The film checks in with these three over a stretch of months, documenting first their everyday life, and then the changes when Rob goes to prison.
Just for its depiction of the poverty among America’s indigenous population, “The Seventh Fire” is valuable. It’s also fascinating as a look at the curious particulars of the drug trade — such as the practice of including purgatives in a batch to convince buyers that they’ve bought something extra-potent.
But once Rob is incarcerated for a fifth time — and sobers up — he gains clarity about his situation, which allows Riccobono to put his circumstances in a larger context. Ultimately, “The Seventh Fire” is a sensitive, evocative portrait of people who strive to take pride in their heritage, even though they’ve grown up around crime, abuse and addiction.
‘The Seventh Fire’
Running time: 1 hour, 16 minutes.
Playing: Laemmle Royal, Santa Monica