I spoke to Jack Pettibone Riccobono, Chris Eyre, and Adelaide Papazoglou on November 22, 2016, the day after a special screening of their film, THE SEVENTH FIRE. For Riccobone, the documentary was a return to the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota, and to the Ojibwe people who were the subject of a short film he’d made 10 years before. Our conversation started with Riccobono describing what had compelled him to make his feature film debut about the issues facing that tribe, as well as how Rob Brown, Jr. came to be such an important element in telling that story.
We went on to talk about why gang culture has become so appealing to Native American youth, how Riccobono obtained such intimate access to the lives of his subjects, and what it was like for him personally to film Brown being processed for incarceration, and the leaving him there in prison. He also described taking his film to the White House, and the responsibility of being entrusted with Brown’s handwritten poetry, sent to him from prison, which resulted in a the book “White Earth Stories”, available through the film’s web site, http://www.theseventhfire.com .
THE SEVENTH FIRE is a searing documentary about the results gang culture usurping Native American culture on the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota. Told from the perspective of two members of the Ojibwe tribe, the ci-mentioned Rob, a talented writer, failed by both social services and the criminal justice system who is about to face his fifth incarceration, and Kevin Fineday, Brown’s protégé an enterprising small-time drug-dealer at a crossroads in his life where every choice he makes will inescapably determine his future.
These two men encapsulate in many ways the issues facing Native Americans in the modern world, issues that have their roots in years of systematic oppression and deracination of their culture. The documentary captures the most intimate emotions of their lives with an almost brutal honesty that reveals the sensitivity beneath the tough surface, and the almost unquenchable hope that not even the direst circumstances can entirely quell. Riccobo’s previous work includes the short film, THE SACRED FOOD, about the potential for destruction of the wild rice crops by GMOs, also filmed on the White Earth Reservation, and this is his feature film debut.