If you’re the type that likes end credit sequences that start with the words “TERRENCE MALICK PRESENTS” set to a Native American rap track, then The Seventh Fire is the documentary you’ve been waiting for. A slice-of-life story about living on the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota, The Seventh Fire slowly reveals the extent to which drug dealing, addiction, and the consequences thereof plague the local community.
Intriguing, visceral, and almost shockingly gritty at times, it is decidedly low budget. Scene after scene is filled with low-light settings captured on inadequate cameras, ringing true to the dark subject matter as scene after scene also captures adults sharing cigarettes with their children in front of a baby, overweight people drinking themselves into violent states of unrest, and teenagers snorting cocaine while they talk about making deals involving meth. Stark and upsetting, it is a dramatic portrait of a reservation in a state of decay.
Almost 18 years of age, Kevin Fineday engages in a number of illegal and narcotics-related activities. His father figure is man now facing a fifth prison sentence. Kevin’s grandfather has resigned himself to living out the rest of his own life in peace rather than spend it worrying about or trying to change the young man. The underlying and unspoken suggestion is that the difficulties on display in the film are the indirect result of a long history of injustice forced upon a specific group of human beings.
As promised by the title, there are plenty of fires both metaphoric and literal. At first inexplicable images of burning objects make appearances in various interludes. Later a woman is shown pouring gasoline on a no longer wanted piece of furniture which she then proceeds to light on fire. In short, this repeated action is a representation of life on the reservation; excessive, worn out, and unwanted.
There was something else quite striking and moderately humorous about the end credits; a closing line which read, “All Rites Reserved.” Perhaps slyly including the right to undergo a rite of passage into manhood, even if that means making big mistakes before learning things the hard way.Return to Our Berlinale 2015 Coverage
1 hour, 18 minutes
Jack Pettibone Riccobono