JB: I'm glad to hear that. Did I hear that the film screened at the White House? How did that come about? And wouldn't that give the film more cachet and a huge boost to your credibility?
JPR: Yeah, that was definitely something we didn't see coming! The Seventh Fire was invited to screen at the White House in March and our main subjects were on a special panel with President Obama's top adviser on Native American affairs Karen Diver, Dept of Justice officials, Bill Keller, the editor-in-chief of The Marshall Project, and Jamelle Bouie, Slate's chief political correspondent. It was an amazing experience. For Kevin, it was his first time on an airplane and his first time out of the state of Minnesota.
It's a real testament to President Obama that the film was screened without any censorship or alteration in one of the most elite and high-powered places on Earth, and that our two main subjects - former gang members and convicted felons - were invited to share their stories on this panel with senior officials. I honestly still can't believe it happened.
President Obama is the first sitting president to visit a federal prison and only the third sitting president to ever visit a Native American reservation. And he's made it a priority in his final year in office to push for criminal justice reform and raise awareness about issues in Indian Country. So it was a very special honor and an incredible opportunity to share the film with key policymakers. The panel was also livestreamed on the White House YouTube channel and we have the full discussion available at TheSeventhFire.com.
JB: That is surprising and encouraging. What else would you like to add before we wrap this up?
JPR: We just released a limited edition art book entitled White Earth Stories that features a collection of poems Rob composed while incarcerated and stills from the film (link to publisher's page: http://candb.co/white-earth-stories ). Rob is a self-taught writer who discovered writing as a creative outlet during his years of incarceration. When we were about 50% finished with production, Rob was sentenced to go back to prison for a fifth time and I encouraged him to keep a journal. He would send me handwritten pages in the mail of daily observations and poems, and that's what led to this book project.
It was a really challenging moment when he was sent back to prison and we didn't know if we would be able to capture this part of his life. We worked very hard to gain the trust of the Minnesota Department of Corrections and became the first independent film crew to shoot within their prison system.
The Seventh Fire took 4 years to make and it's very much a labor of love. We want it to reach the widest audience possible, so if the film resonates with you, please tell a friend!